The Best Sleeping Positions for Lower Back Pain
A good's night sleep has been said to help your health in so many ways. But what if you just can't seem to get a full night's rest? On average, adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night for optimal health and well-being, but more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep.
Some people are unable to achieve a good night's sleep due to sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea. Other people can't get a full night's rest because of musculoskeletal problems like hip or lower back pain. The good news is that, for those who experience back pain when sleeping, sometimes finding the right sleeping position is enough to alleviate the issue.
What causes lower back pain while sleeping?
Your back is anchored by your spine, which is essentially a column of bones stacked atop one another. In between each bone is a jelly-like pad called a spinal disc. Where you sleep and the position you sleep in can affect your spinal alignment. While you sleep, you can twist and place strain on your spinal column, which can cause discomfort and pain. If you are sleeping on a hard surface or surface that does not provide proper support, it can also place strain on your spinal column and muscles.
Pain can interfere with sleep and lack of sleep can exacerbate pain. The sooner you know the best way to sleep with lower back pain, you can change how you're sleeping, reduce your pain and stop this stressful negative cycle.
What are the best sleeping positions for back pain?
On your back
The best sleeping position for back pain is to sleep on your back. Sleeping on your back distributes weight evenly across your spinal column, reducing strain and pressure on specific areas of your spine. Sleeping on your back is also the best position to relieve hip pain when sleeping, for the same reason - removing pressure on your hips.
On your side
Back-sleeping isn't always possible—or best—for everyone. Back-sleeping can aggravate snoring and sleep apnea and should be avoided by pregnant women. The second best sleeping position for lower back pain is to sleep on your side with your knees at a slight bend.
For some people, lying flat exacerbates their back pain, and they can only find relief if sleeping at a slight incline, either with their back propped up by pillows, in a motorized bed with the back raised or in a reclined chair. If your back pain persists for several weeks and you feel you can only achieve sleep while sleeping in a reclined position, you may have a more serious spinal condition, such as spondylolisthesis, and should talk to your doctor.
What are some other tips for how to sleep with lower back pain?
Add a pillow
If you find it uncomfortable to sleep flat on your back, try placing a pillow behind your knees. Elevating the knees can help achieve the natural curvature of the spine and increase your level of comfort.
If you're sleeping on your side and feel like having your knees stacked creates extra pressure or is painful, try placing a pillow between your knees. A pillow between the knees raises your upper leg and supports the natural alignment of the spine, pelvis and hips.
Change your sleeping surface
If you're experiencing back pain while sleeping it is possible that your sleeping surface may be too firm or too soft. If your mattress is too soft, it won't provide enough support for your body to maintain its natural alignment and can create extra stress or pain. If your mattress is too hard, it can be painful at contact points like your hips, knees and shoulders. Adding a mattress topper or purchasing a mattress with the right amount of support may help address back and hip pain.
When should I see a doctor about lower back pain?
It's important to remember you may need to do more than change your sleeping habits to address your back pain. If you are unable to find how to sleep with back pain by changing your sleeping position alone, you may need to see a doctor.
Typically, back pain should resolve within one week. If you have been experiencing back pain for longer than four to six weeks that is affecting your ability to sleep, you should make an appointment with your doctor. An orthopedic surgeon has special training in bones, muscles and joints and will be able to evaluate the alignment of your spine. They may order X-rays or other tests to diagnose the cause of your back pain and provide you with a treatment plan.
You do not need to live in pain and without quality sleep. Your doctor can help you find relief from your pain and achieve healthy sleep.