Alaska Sleep Education Center

Sleep Tips for Those with Back Pain

Posted by Mackenzie Dillon on Dec 26, 2019 8:15:00 AM

woman-sleepingGetting your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep without experiencing any disruptions is already somewhat of a struggle, so adding back pain into the mix can be a recipe for a sleepless night full of tossing and turning.

According to The National Sleep Foundation, it’s not uncommon for those who suffer from back pain to wake up six times throughout the night because of the constant discomfort. Sleep, however, is incredibly important for maintaining your personal well-being and you shouldn’t have to compromise your physical and mental health when coping with back pain.

Here are a few things you can do to provide relief to your aching back while you catch up on your much-needed beauty rest. 


Keep Your Spine Aligned While You Sleep 

Whether your case of back pain stems from your rigorous workout at the gym, arthritis, or a herniated disc, the objective is to keep your spine in a neutral alignment while you sleep to prevent it from becoming even more aggravated.

Not all sleeping positions compliment back pain, so you’ll want to be conscious about the way you’re sleeping. You can also use pillows for a little extra support, but proper placement around your body is key. 


Side Sleepers: If you spend most of the night asleep on your side, try sleeping with a pillow in between your hips. This will provide some pain relief and ensures your hips, pelvis, and spine are all in proper alignment. For those of you with a herniated disc, sleeping on your side in fetal position with your knees curled in helps open up the space between the vertebrae and relieve tension. 


Back Sleepers: If you’re a back sleeper, you’ll want to sleep with a comfortable pillow underneath your knees. Doing so will prevent your spine from straying out of alignment, and keep the curve in your lower back. For even more support, roll up a small, plush towel and keep it under the small of your back. 


Stomach Sleepers: Sleeping on your stomach isn’t usually an ideal position for individuals who suffer from back pain, but it does help those who have degenerative disc disease. When you sleep with a pillow underneath your pelvis, it helps ease the pressure that’s placed between your discs. 


Consider Upgrading Your Mattress

When you’re experiencing back pain, you should take a moment to consider how old your mattress is. If you purchased it around the time Obama took over the oval office, you might’ve found the culprit to your grievances.

Old, sagging mattresses tend to throw our backs out of whack and is a big contributor to back pain. In fact, the Journal of Applied Ergonomics found that about 63% of people with lower back pain saw huge improvement after ditching their worn out mattress for a new one -- so you certainly wouldn’t be the only one who has pushed their mattress passed its intended shelf life.

Even if your bed isn’t a decade old, it may still have a role in causing you pain. Beds tend to soften up after normal wear and tear, which could be bad news for somebody who’s experiencing back pain. Unless you’re a strict side sleeper, firm mattresses provide the necessary support to keep your back from sagging into the mattress. 

If you suspect your mattress is causing you to wake up with an aching back, you have a few options. First, you can opt to buy a new mattress -- which is the smart move for folks with a bed older than eight years. The most supportive mattresses on the market are hybrid beds that combine both foam and coils, and they work wonders for back pain sufferers. 

Alternatively, if you aren’t in dire need of a new bed, you can adjust the firmness of your mattress and make it feel more supportive buy adding a topper to it. Unless you’re a petite side sleeper, make sure you’re looking into something no softer than a medium rating to get the back support you need. 


Make Sure You Sleep With The Right Pillow

pillowsBelieve it or not, a poor, unaccommodating pillow can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep. If you’re not sleeping on the right pillow, it might cause you to wake up with a sore neck or shoulder. It all has to do with a pillow’s loft, or in other words, how tall it is.

Side sleepers want a pillow with a higher loft, and should be able to draw an imaginary line from the nose straight down to the belly button. If the line is crooked, your pillow probably doesn’t have enough loft. 

Back sleepers, on the other hand, should look for a pillow with lower loft that supports their neck without propping it up too much. The neck should be in a “C” curve when you’re on your back, and if you’re looking toward the wall instead of the ceiling, you’re probably sleeping on a pillow with a bit too much loft.

Stomach sleepers will also want a pillow with less loft so their heads can rest comfortably on the pillow without curving or kinking the neck. We don’t necessarily have a trick for you to tell if your spine is in neutral alignment, so for stomach sleepers, you’ll just have to feel it out yourself. If your neck is slightly bent and uncomfortable on your pillow, you likely need one with less loft.  


Strengthen Your Core

Engaging in physical activity is already one of the best things you can do during the day to help you sleep better at night, but workouts that target your core muscles can also help put an end to muscle spasms in your back during the night and prevent you from straining it in the first place.

In a published article from Harvard Medical School, they say it “helps to stretch and strengthen muscles that support the back and spine, such as the paraspinal muscles that help you bend your spine, the multifidus muscles that stabilize your vertebrae, and the transverse abdominis in the abdomen, which also helps stabilize your spine.”

The plank position is one of the best exercises for this because it targets all of your core muscles including the abdominals, hips, lower back, and pelvis. 


Practice Nightly Stretches Or Yoga 

Stretching before bed is a great addition to your nighttime routine because it relaxes your muscles and prepares them for sleep, but light yoga poses have also  been proven to help alleviate lower back pain and ease anxiety.

If you’re a beginner, you should first consult a doctor or a chiropractor before you try your hand at yoga. You want to make sure you practice poses that help your back and certain poses are more helpful than others.

You should also consider signing up for a few yoga classes with an instructor so you can practice the moves under the supervision of a professional, and ensure you have the proper breathing technique down. 


Gently Ease In And Out Of Bed

It’s important to move with care when you’re experience any type of back pain, so make sure you’re taking it easy when you get in and out of bed.

Try to avoid sudden movements, and don’t bend forward at the waist when you’re getting up or you could risk straining your back even more. It might take a second to get used to, but try rolling onto your side and use your hands to push yourself up instead.

If you find yourself having difficulty going to sleep at night, waking in the middle of the night without being able to get back to sleep, or waking earlier than you had planned but still feeling tired throughout the day, chances are you might have insomnia.

There are many treatment options available for insomnia including medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. If you live in Alaska and would like to speak to a sleep specialist about your chronic insomnia, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic by clicking the link below to receive a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep educator who can help you determine the next best course of action for your sleep troubles.

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About the Author: McKenzie Dillon is a blogger and sleep enthusiast for The Slumber Yard, a leading bedding reviews website. When she’s not sleeping, McKenzie likes attending comedy shows, hiking and cooking.


Topics: insomnia, sleep hygiene, poor sleep

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