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

Sleep is arguably the most important activity of the day. Getting enough sleep keeps you focused, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and keeps your stress levels in check. Remember when you snapped at your kid or practically bit off your co-workers head over a stupid miscommunication? A lack of quality sleep probably had something to do with it. While sometimes not getting enough sleep is your fault (ahem, did you really need to watch one more episode of House of Cards?), sometimes you may not be able to fall asleep because you’re unable to get comfortable. When you have back pain, finding a comfortable sleep position can seem almost impossible, which is concerning considering that an estimated 75% to 85% of Americans will experience one form of back pain during their lifetime.

The relationship between a lack of sleep and pain is so interconnected that it can be difficult to tell which came first. Did not getting enough sleep lead to back pain or did your back pains cause your lack of sleep? A poll done by the National Sleep Foundation found that two-thirds of people with chronic pain also experience trouble sleeping. The ongoing back and forth between back pain and sleep is a vicious one, but the bottom line is that tonight, you need a good night’s sleep. Thanks to research and medical insight, there are some tips and tricks that can help transform bedtime from something you dread to something that allows you to soothe an overworked, tight, or pulled back.

If you’re a back sleeper

Man sleeping on his back

Sleeping on your back is one of the most natural positions | iStock.com

The good news is that this is one of the most natural and comfortable ways for people with back problems to sleep, says mindbodygreen. The key here is making small adjustments that will keep your spine straight and long. First, get rid of the pillow — especially if you’re the type of person that likes to sleep on a giant, overstuffed poly pillow. Give sleeping directly on the mattress a shot. If that’s too dramatic of an adjustment, use a thin pillow or a rolled up towel. Sleeping on your back with a thick pillow forces your head up at an unnatural angle. In addition, when sleeping on your back, try to keep your legs straight and avoid the temptation to let one knee slide up and out. Putting a pillow under your knees may correct this tendency and help support your spine’s natural curve.

If you’re a side sleeper

Man sleeping on his side

Love to sleep on your side? This could be good for back pain | iStock.com

Love to sleep on your side? This natural position is a great way to sleep as it puts the least amount of stress on your body, says mindbodygreen. The trick here is to use pillows to create a comfortable haven for you to settle into. Lie on your preferred side and curl your legs up toward your chest, Livestrong recommends. It is best to keep your knees together and aligned, rather than spiraling your body to one side. Tuck a pillow between your legs, which will lift your top leg and help align your spine. A long body pillow or even a regular pillow will do the trick. This minor adjustment will give you a better chance of waking up fully rested and without a sore back.

If you sleep on your stomach

Man sleeping on his stomach

If you have back pain, try not to sleep on your stomach | iStock.com

Sleeping on your stomach is not ideal for people with back pain. Everyday Health notes that it flattens the natural curve of your spine and puts additional strain on your back muscles. In addition, it requires you to face one side, which rotates your neck and can result in upper back pain between your shoulders. Give sleeping on your back or side a shot, but if you’re unable to make the switch, reduce the strain on your back by placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen. This helps relieve some of the stress you put on your back when you sleep on your stomach, says Mayo Clinic. You can also experiment with using a pillow under your head or not to see if that makes an impact on your comfort.

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