How to Have a Good Night’s Sleep When You Have Back Pain

Nothing beats crawling into bed beneath crisp cotton sheets, snuggling up with your better half, and then heading to the Land of Nod for a blissful eight hours. Unfortunately for many people this is but a dream. Instead of a restful night’s sleep, they end up tossing and turning, unable to find a comfortable spot because of back pain. So what can you do if back pain is making your life miserable and causing insomnia?

On average, we spend more than 30% of our life in bed, mostly sleeping. Not surprisingly this has a huge impact on our back health. The wrong bed or a bad sleeping position can lead to many hours, days or weeks of agony, and once you have a bad back it can feel as if you are never free from it.  

The Causes of Back Pain

The back is a complex structure and there are many reasons why back pain occurs.

  • Minor sprains or injuries caused by lifting something badly or too heavy are common. Back pain of this nature usually goes away within a few days or so.
  • Long-term back pain caused by repetitive strain can develop slowly over time.
  • Sports related injuries to the back are usually muscular in origin, but no less painful.
  • Chronic back pain can also be caused by more serious medical problems such as arthritis or even cancer.

Back pain can sometimes be caused by poor posture or sleeping badly, but somewhat ironically, back pain can lead to poor posture and a lack of sleep, so it really is a vicious circle where one begets the other.

How Do You Sleep?

We all have our preferred sleeping position in bed, which we revert back to every night. Sadly your favorite sleeping position might not be the best one for your back, as some sleeping positions don’t support the back properly. A poor sleeping position will also make an underlying back problem worse. So if you are having trouble falling asleep due to back pain, or you keep waking up for the same reason, your sleeping position may be having a bigger effect that you realize.

The Worst Sleep Positions

Sleeping on your stomach is not good for the back. Stomach sleepers have to rotate their necks, which puts extra strain on the shoulder. Lying on the stomach also flattens the natural curve of the spine, which puts extra strain on the back. Too many pillows can have the same effect, as it pulls the spine out of alignment.

Find the Right Sleeping Position

  • Stomach sleepers need to place a thin pillow under their pelvis and remove the one from beneath their head. This will help to restore the alignment of the spine.
  • Side sleepers are better off, but they may still need to make some fine adjustments if they are experiencing some degree of back pain. Placing a pillow between the knees can help reduce back pain, especially if you are pregnant.
  • Sleeping on the back is the best position for the back. However, some people may need to place a pillow under their knees to maintain the natural curve of the spine. If the mattress is soft, try placing a rolled up towel under your lower back to provide extra support.
  • Some people need to sleep in a more upright position, perhaps because they have breathing difficulties when lying down. If this is the case, make sure you support your whole torso with pillows to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the spine.

Choose a Comfortable Bed

The right bed is very important. Old mattresses become less supportive over time and this is a common reason why people begin to suffer with back pain when sleeping in an old bed. Ideally mattresses should be turned regularly to prevent too much wear and tear on one side, but if your mattress is showing its age, it might be time to invest in a new bed. Don’t forget to replace your pillows regularly, too, as these can also have a significant impact on back health.

Seek Medical Help

Often a few simple tweaks to your sleeping position or a new bed solve the problem. But if your back pain lasts longer than a couple of weeks, or seems to be getting worse, make sure you seek medical advice to rule out any underlying health issues. Physiotherapy can help treat back pain, but do ask your doctor for advice before making a physiotherapy appointment.


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