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Seniors Mobility Aids

How to Sleep With Back Pain | Effective Strategies & Tips

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Are you wondering how to sleep with back pain?

A year ago, I suffered from sleep deprivation due to severe back pain, so I did my fair share of research on how to deal with this problem.

So, I’m here to share the best sleep positions for back aches and give you some tips on how to relax your back muscles before bed. 

Just keep reading.

Key Takeaways

  • Back pain at night has many causes and can be related to an awkward sleeping position or a medical condition. 
  • Lying flat on the back is among the most comfortable sleeping position for back pain, but sleeping on the stomach can aggravate some spinal conditions. 
  • Try exercising before bed, taking a bath to lose tight muscles, or consulting a doctor for pain medication. 

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Before I tell you all about the best sleeping positions for lumbar pain, let’s talk about why your back hurts so much during the night. 

As dr. Kaliq Chang says,

“Many people have some nagging back pain during the day, but it just seems worse at night because they’re distracted by work and other activities during daylight hours.” (1)

lady with back pain

Unfortunately, this type of ache can have many medical causes, such as pregnancy, spinal disc degeneration, an abnormal spinal curve, spinal stenosis, and even kidney stones. 

However, if you’re experiencing back pain only at night, the problem can be as simple as a worn-out pillow or an old mattress.

Moreover, bad posture at night often puts pressure on the spine or presses a nerve. During the night, circulation also slows down, which increases your sense of pain and leads to poor sleep. 

Still, you should consult a professional to determine the cause of your back pain and rule out a severe medical condition, especially if the sleeping positions below don’t help. 

5 Sleeping Positions for People with Back Pain

Specialists at Coastal Orthopedics explain,

“If you’re not positioned in a way that keeps your spine aligned and relaxed, you may be putting excess weight or strain on different parts of the back.” (2)

So, here are the best five positions for sleepers with back pain. 

#1 Flat on the Back

Surprisingly, the best position to avoid back aches is lying flat on your back. It distributes your weight evenly, so you don’t stress your spine or put pressure on your nerves. 

However, there are situations, such as sleeping in a recliner after shoulder surgery, where alternative positions might be recommended for healing and comfort.

Moreover, this position lets you maintain your natural spinal alignment at night since it mimics standing straight. It can also improve your breathing and reduce tension headaches. 

And here’s an extra tip to make this position work for you. Place a pillow underneath your knees to preserve the natural curve of your spine and a towel under your small back for additional support. 

Check out this video for other expert tips:

#2 Sleep on the Side

Sleeping on the side is another great way to take the pressure off your spine. However, the trick to this position is to put a firm pillow between your legs. 

The pillow keeps your hips, pelvis, and spine aligned, so you’re less likely to be in pain and should get eight hours of sleep without problems.

You should also try a thicker pillow for your head to keep it in alignment with the rest of your body. Some sleepers also prefer a body pillow to 

Moreover, sleeping on the side can benefit people with sleep apnea. It can also improve your breathing, reduce snoring, and improve gut health. 

But avoid sleeping on the same side because it can lead to muscle imbalance. 

#3 Fetal Position

Are you having lower back pain? Then you should try sleeping in the fetal position:

  • Start by lying flat on the bed. Then roll onto your side. 
  • Bring your knees towards your chest and curl your torso. 
  • You should change sides during the night to avoid imbalances. 
  • This position works for relieving lower back discomfort because it opens the space between vertebrae.

If you’re snoring, sleeping in a fetal pose can reduce it. And it’s beneficial for treating lower back pain during pregnancy or managing the discomfort from degenerative disc disease.

But if you prefer sleeping on your stomach, you should opt for a thinner pillow for your head to provide lumbar spine support.

#4 Reclined Position

Do you like napping in a recliner? Then you can alleviate back pain by sleeping in a reclined position.

It reduces spine pressure, supports the back, and eases aches by creating an angle between your hips, rear, and thighs. 

Moreover, studies conclude that sleeping in a recliner with a rocking motion improves sleep quality because you spend more time in deep sleep. (3)

It’s worth a try, especially if you have sleep disorders. And check this video to see how to nap in a recliner if you have sciatica pain. 

#5 Sleeping on Your Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach isn’t the best position for sleep because your spine isn’t in a neutral position, which can contribute to back, shoulder, and neck pain.

But stomach sleepers shouldn’t despair. 

You can make this position work with a small trick to keep your spine in proper alignment:

  • Get a pillow and place it under the pelvis and lower back. In this way, you will relieve back pressure.
  • If you’re still uncomfortable, you can also place a pillow under your head to get a restful sleep. 

And what should you do if the back ache doesn’t allow you to sleep properly at night? Here are some additional bedtime tips for pain relief to make your lives easier. 

6 Tips on How to Sleep with Back Pain

Since discomfort can be due to an underlying medical condition, you should talk to a specialist, especially if these seven tips don’t help you. 

#1 Change Your Pillow

Sometimes a supportive sleeping position isn’t enough to relieve back discomfort because your pillow is too old. 

Get a new pillow. It should fill the space between the mattress and your head. Memory foam is one of the best options, but a water pillow can also relieve neck pain. 

#2 Consider a Firmer Mattress

Is your current mattress sagging or soft? Then it’s bad for your spine’s natural curves, contributing to back discomfort. 

However, a firm mattress isn’t the best option. A study recommends a medium-firm mattress for optimum comfort. (4)

You can also try a memory foam mattress topper to preserve your spine’s natural alignment.

#3 Take A Bath

A hot bath is an excellent way to relax muscle spasms, increase blood flow, and relieve back pain. So, plan 15-20 minutes of soaking into your sleep schedule.  

#4 Exercise Before Bed

Doing back stretches before bed can relieve muscle stiffness, reduce tension, and improve your posture to avoid spinal compression and nerve pain. Yoga is also an excellent alternative for adults and seniors. 

#5 Wear a Back Brace

Back braces support the spine and keep it aligned to correct bad posture. It’s possible to sleep with a back brace to prevent pain, but you should discuss it with a doctor.

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#6 Consider Lotions

Plenty of over-the-counter lotions can numb your back at night and allow you to rest without discomfort. However, they don’t treat the underlying cause; some have unpleasant side effects. 

FAQs

1. Why is back pain worse at night?

Back pain can intensify at night due to factors like compressed nerves or lack of distractions. Using a back support belt during the day can alleviate some pain by providing stability and promoting good posture.

2. What is the fastest way to relieve back pain at home?

Take a hot bath, exercise, apply pain relief creams, or consider oral medication to relieve back pain at home. 

3. What is the healthiest sleeping position? 

Sleeping on your back is the healthiest sleeping position because it keeps the back supported, relieves spinal pressure, and relaxes tensed muscles. 

Conclusion 

How to sleep with back pain? Switching to a healthy sleeping pose can relieve back aches and improve your quality of sleep. Exercising, hot baths, and muscle relaxants can also help. 

However, to solve the problem for good, you should consult a professional to determine the cause of the pain and the best way to eliminate it.

What do you think about these tips on how to sleep with back pain? What do you do when your back aches in the middle of the night? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

senior sleeping tight even with back pain

Resources:

1. Causes and Treatments for Nighttime Back Pain – What you Should Know [Internet]. www.atlanticspinecenter.com. [cited 2023 Jul 17]. Available from: https://www.atlanticspinecenter.com/blog/v/causes-and-treatments-for-nighttime-back-pain/

2. Havens K. How Sleep Position Affects Your Spine [Internet]. Coastalorthoteam.com. 2017. Available from: https://www.coastalorthoteam.com/blog/how-sleep-position-affects-your-spine

3. Baek S, Yu H, Roh J, Lee J, Sohn I, Kim S, et al. Effect of a Recliner Chair with Rocking Motions on Sleep Efficiency. Sensors [Internet]. 2021;21:8214. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-8220/21/24/8214/htm

4. Caggiari G, Talesa GR, Toro G, Jannelli E, Monteleone G, Puddu L. What type of mattress should be chosen to avoid back pain and improve sleep quality? Review of the literature. Journal of Orthopaedics and Traumatology. 2021;22.

About Author

Lamia A Kader, MD
Lamia A Kader is a Medical Doctor and a Medical Research Professional with a Ph.D. in Clinical Research. ISMMS, USA. She had enhanced her medical knowledge of medical devices and equipment development and innovation by attending clinical meetings, local national courses, journal clubs, and conferences, in addition to e-learning, subscribing to major medical journals and keeping an eye on latest trends in medicine and keeping an eye on clinical trials industry and healthcare marketing current trends. She had participated in several medical device innovation projects by conducting clinical research studies, developing clinical trial protocols, writing patient safety narratives and “Medical Device Risk Assessment Reports” to transform new medical technologies into real products that save and improve lives. Follow her on LINKEDIN. Read her LATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.

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