Lower back pain impacts daily life in a number of ways, but even worse may be the effect it has on your nightly life. According to the National Sleep Foundation,1 only 37 percent of people with chronic pain report good or very good sleep quality, and on average they get 42 fewer minutes of sleep than they need. Lower back pain can cause restless, light sleep or even awaken you briefly throughout the night, impacting your sleep quality.
Here are a few tips for both sleeping better with lower back pain—and easing your lower back pain so you can sleep more deeply.
Get into position
Generally, the best sleeping position for lower back pain is considered to be flat on your back,2 with your knees elevated by a bolster or pillow. However, that posture can worsen snoring and is not comfortable for everyone or every lower back issue. Here are some other positions to try:
- Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees. The pillow helps maintain the natural alignment of your pelvis and spine. For extra support, you can use another pillow under your waist if there's a gap there. And if you find yourself turning onto your stomach while you sleep, try hugging yet another pillow against your chest to keep you on your side.
- Sleep in a fetal position. Keeping your legs curled deeply toward your abdomen may open up your joints, especially if you have a herniated disc.
- Sleep on your stomach with support. Lying on your stomach with a pillow under your head can put a lot of pressure on your neck and spine. But if you prefer stomach sleeping, you may be able to do it without pain if you put the pillow under your stomach and hips instead.
- Sleep in an adjustable bed. If you find relief from your back pain during the day in a recliner, it might be worth investing in a bed that can be adjusted to elevate the head and knees to bring you into a similar position at night.
About your mattress and pillow
A newer mattress with lots of support is critical for easing lower back pain, but the firmness is up to you.3 Memory foam mattresses are a popular recommendation for back pain sufferers, but ultimately the best mattress is the one that makes you the most comfortable. Be sure to give any new mattress you're considering a long tryout to see how it feels.
Pillows are important, too. To keep your spine aligned,4 you'll need a flatter pillow to sleep on your back or stomach and a thicker pillow while sleeping on your side. You may also need extra pillows to tuck around yourself or between your knees to support your sleeping position.
Set up for tomorrow night
The right sleeping tips can help you avoid damaging your back at night, but you may also need to look at your behaviors during the day. Serious or chronic back pain should be evaluated by a medical professional, but if you're dealing with occasional, mild pain, there are some easy, effective steps to take:
- Use a lumbar roll to improve seated posture. You can buy one or make your own.5
- Stretch and release. Try a series of gentle yoga postures6 before bed.
- Work your abs. The core is vital to stabilizing the low back; try this series7 several times a week.
- Change the way you sit. You can counteract some of the negative effects of sitting with good ergonomics8 and simply remembering to stand more frequently.
The good news is that, in some cases, you can use lifestyle interventions—both in and out of bed—to help relieve your lower back pain and sleep easier.
- "The Right Way to Sleep with Lower Back Pain," National Sleep Foundation, updated July 2020. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/right-way-sleep-lower-back-pain
- "How should you sleep if you have lower back pain?" by Stephen Gill, Medical News Today, January 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320870#the-best-sleeping-positions
- "The 10 Best Mattresses for Back Pain," by Sheryl Grassie, Health, April 2020. https://www.health.com/condition/sleep/best-mattress-for-back-pain
- "The Best Sleeping Positions for Lower Back Pain, Alignment Tips, and More," by Ashley Marcin, Healthline, updated August 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/best-sleeping-position-for-lower-back-pain#choosing-a-pillow
- "Make Your Own Lumbar Roll for Proper Posture," by Brett Sears, Verywell Health, updated January 2020. https://www.verywellhealth.com/make-your-own-lumbar-roll-for-proper-posture-2696193
- "8 Great Yoga Stretches to Relieve Lower Back Pain Before Bed, by Stephen Scrivens, Thrive/Strive, accessed September 2020. https://thrivestrive.com/yoga-lower-back-pain/
- "7 Simple Core Exercises That Prevent Lower Back Pain," UC San Diego Health, May 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20zybMbnVoU
- "Tips For Ergonomics – How To Reduce Pain Symptoms At Work & Home," Neck Solutions, accessed September 2020. https://www.necksolutions.com/ergonomics/
The information in this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition.