How to Sleep with Lower Back Pain? Do's and Don'ts for Back Pain Prevention While Sleeping

Back PainPrevention

Best way to sleep with lower back pain

Sleep is supposed to be a respite from our troubles, but sometimes the way we sleep – and the mattress and pillows we surround ourselves with – can actually contribute to troubling back pain, according to interventional pain management specialist Dr. Kaliq Chang of Atlantic Spine Center.

Because the back experiences much pressure while standing, walking, and lifting things, the tissues wear off quickly, which can result in pain. It is a prevalent issue; about 7 in 10 people experience back pain at some point. It can be short-term acute pain caused by an injury or long-term chronic pain.

Dr. Chang says back pain and sleep problems can be a chicken-egg situation since existing back pain can make it harder to sleep, and certain sleep positions and products can ease back pain or make it worse. A 2014 study in the Asian Spine Journal indicated that nearly one-third of people with low back pain dealt with disturbed sleep from their distress. Researchers also found that the worst time for back pain was between 7 pm and midnight, with heightened pain affecting rest even more.

"But if your aching back is keeping you up at night, it might have less to do with your activities during the day than with how you're positioning yourself during sleep or what you're sleeping on," explains Dr. Chang. "Back pain can make it tough to get a decent night of shuteye, but a few simple changes can help take the stress off your back and make refreshing sleep more likely."

If you experience back pain, don’t hesitate to visit a doctor. A therapist can tell you the proper diagnosis and choose the correct treatment plan. Remember that in some cases, improper exercises, mattresses, and pillows can worsen your pain. Moreover, a doctor can advise you to take medicines to ease the pain, improving the quality of your sleep and preventing future back pain.

Pain caused by an injury, pain that worsens with time, debilitating or radiating pain, weakness or numbness in the lower body, redness, warmth, swelling, or fever can all be reasons to visit a doctor. After evaluating the symptoms, your doctor will determine future steps for further testing, diagnosis, and treatment program. A doctor can also recommend the best way to sleep with lower back pain.

Sleep positions for back pain prevention

Dr. Chang notes that some sleep positions place extra pressure on your neck, shoulders, hips, and lower back – all of which can lead to an aching back. But what's the position most likely to cause back pain? Sleeping on the stomach flattens the spine’s natural curve and requires neck rotation that can trigger pain between the shoulders.

On the other hand, he says that modifying your favorite sleep position can help take the strain off your back.

  • Back sleepers can place a pillow under the knees to promote their spine's natural curve;
  • Stomach sleepers can place a pillow under the lower abdomen to ease back strain;
  • Side sleepers can pull their legs slightly toward the chest and sleep with a pillow between the knees. Such a position is called a fetal position and helps to relieve some pain.

Dr. Chang says that changing your sleep position during the night is probably a good thing as far as your back is concerned.

"It's normal for us to move around a bit while we sleep, and shifting position helps ease pressure on the back," he adds. "When you turn over, try not to twist or bend at the waist, but to move your body as one unit. This can prevent further back strain."

Mattresses and pillows for back pain

Too many people buy mattresses and pillows – the "tools" of good sleep – without even trying them out, Dr. Chang says. But much more consideration should be given to these essential choices.

Mattresses come in so many forms these days – hard or soft, memory foam or pillow top, and countless choices in between – that it's impossible to point to one type and say it's best for back health, Dr. Chang says. "When shopping for a new one, spend some time lying on different mattresses in the store and don't hurry the process," he suggests. "Choose one that feels not only comfortable but provides support for the natural curves of your spine."

Choosing a mattress for back pain depends on your needs; if you experience low back pain, a firm mattress can worsen your pain, so opting for a softer one can be a good idea.

Pillow choice should be given just as much consideration since, ultimately, pillows don't just affect your head and neck. Pick a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck without being too high or low, Dr. Chang advises. "Depending on your sleep position, adding or subtracting a pillow can help keep your spine in the proper position," he adds.

The primary purpose of your pillow is to support the upper part of your spine. If you are a back-sleeper, there should be no gap between your neck and mattress. You can choose a thinner pillow or one with a particular curve that supports the neck. If you’re a side sleeper, the pillow should keep your head in line with the rest of the body. For this, you need a firm pillow and another pillow to put between your knees. For those who prefer to sleep on their stomachs, the thinnest pillow or no pillow at all will be the best option. A body pillow like the ones for pregnant women is great for stomach sleepers.

You can also try non-traditional pillows, such as memory foam or water pillows.

The proof is found in how you feel when you rise each morning. "Waking up with achy, tense muscles is a clear sign your mattress, pillow, or sleep position is off," Dr. Chang says. "Since we spend nearly one-third of our lives sleeping – or trying to – spending some time optimizing your sleeping position and products such as mattresses for back pain and pillows is a worthwhile pursuit."

Exercises for back pain prevention

Being careful while performing daily activities is vital. For instance, when you get out of bed, you can bend and twist your back, increasing pain. So, it would help if you learned better techniques, such as rolling over and using your arms to lift yourself.

Strengthening your back and abs muscles can promote proper support of the spine. The abdomen, hips, and lower back muscles are those to pay the most attention to. Moreover, if you also add some cardio exercises, you’ll get better sleep at night.

It would help if you also considered adding stretching exercises to your training plan, as it prevents strains, sprains, and spasms. So, you can try yoga or do some gentle stretches in bed. But you should remember that you should learn proper techniques; otherwise, you can hurt yourself.

Other tips

If back pain disturbs your sleep, you can ask your doctor to recommend pain-relieving medications. Usually, they are already part of the treatment plan and can be prescribed or over-the-counter.

Among over-the-counter options usually are ibuprofen and aspirin. Prescribed drugs include some sedatives, antidepressants, or muscle relaxants.

Aside from medications, it would help if you established a good bedtime routine. You probably heard that sleep is essential for babies, but it is also true in adults. Skip watching TV, using a smartphone, and working before bedtime can improve the quality of your sleep. It is caused by the blue light that is typical in gadgets, and it forces our bodies to act as if it is still afternoon, which is why you can’t fall asleep after watching a movie or social media. Moreover, such activities can stimulate emotions, making it harder to rest, for example, if you watch a horror movie before bedtime. Instead, you can do some meditation, gentle stretches, or other stress-reducing activities.

If you have trouble falling asleep, try avoiding caffeinated drinks after noon and napping, as both things make it harder to fall asleep in the evening. The same idea is with alcohol. Even if you feel sleepy after drinking, in reality, alcohol disturbs some sleep phases, and you don’t get quality sleep.

Reducing potential disruptions is a great way to prevent you from waking up in the middle of the night. So, you can reduce the noise or light in your bedroom, wear earplugs and a sleep mask.