How To Sleep With Back Pain: 5 Tips for Relief

March 24, 2020 | Casper Editorial Team

Back pain is an acute medical condition that causes physical mobility limitations in everyday life. The sudden onset can last up to six weeks before an individual finds relief.
Considered one of the leading causes of musculoskeletal disabilities worldwide, back pain is a common trigger for the problem. More specifically, about 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point. While it’s generally a short-term impairment, if the problem isn’t resolved, it can lead to chronic issues.
The limitations caused by back pain can affect the completion of everyday tasks and activities. The Mayo Clinic cited radiating and shooting pains, muscle stiffness and strains as well as the need to lay in a reclined position as common signs and symptoms of back pain. The days that you have to roll yourself out of the bed shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s important to recognize when something is going on “back there” and how to troubleshoot the situation.

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How Does Back Pain Affect Sleep?

Acute and chronic back pain can cause insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by trouble falling and staying asleep at night. Back pain disrupts the sleep cycle and prevents you from reaching REM sleep (rapid eye movement), the fifth and deepest stage of sleep. Missing one to two hours of quality sleep sends you into sleep deprivation, and can affect your brain function, mood and overall judgment throughout the day.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for the average adult. When thinking about your normal sleep schedule, here are the guidelines to keep in mind:
A diagram showing sleep requirement by age. Inforamtion is as follows: Ages 6-12 should get 9-12 hours of sleep, ages 13-18 should get 8-10 hours of sleep, and ages 18 or older should get 7-9 hours of sleep.
If chronic back pain is inhibiting your sleep, you may not notice sleep deprivation in the first half of the day while pounding coffee, battling traffic and meeting work deadlines. But as the day goes on and the lack of sleep sinks in, the body begins to slow down. The longer you deal with insomnia, the worse its side effects become.
While sleep statistics reveal the good, the bad and the ugly about our sleep habits, all hope is not lost! Here is our list of the best sleep positions for back pain.

The 5 Best Positions for Sleeping With Back Pain

During the day we practice healthy posture while walking and sitting. Good sleeping posture is no different. To find comfort and keep the muscles and joints healthy, it’s recommended to keep the ears, neck, spine and hips in proper alignment. This will help prevent low back pressure and could provide pain relief.
1. Side Sleeping in a Fetal Position With a Body Pillow
Side sleepers are likely already aware of the relief that comes with sleeping with a body pillow between your knees. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, it could help with good sleeping posture, keeping the spine aligned and reducing back pain.
A man sleeps with a long pillow between his legs

  • How: Lay on your side in a bent-knee (fetal) position, with the pillow between your thighs and knees.
  • Why it works: Side sleeping with the body pillow between your knees tilts the pelvis and reduces neck and lower back pressure points. Be sure to switch sides to balance out your body!

2. Stomach Sleeping With a Pillow Under Your Abdomen
Snoozing on your stomach isn’t a sleep expert’s first choice when it comes to sleeping positions, but it may help you sleep with back pain. Physically, it’s comparable to sleeping in a Superman plank for eight hours. But if done correctly, strategically using a pillow could alleviate some of that excess stress on the body.

A person sleeping with a pillow under their stomach.

  • How: Place the pillow below your stomach (away from internal organs) and above the upper thighs, for some additional support.
  • Why it works: Putting a pillow underneath your pelvis moves your spine into a neutral position (especially if you sleep on a soft mattress), taking stress off of pressure points.

3. Back Sleeping With a Pillow Under Your Knees
Sleeping on your back is considered one of the best sleeping positions because it eliminates tension in the back part of the body. If you have issues such as sleep apnea, this is a sleep position to stay away from because it can promote snoring. The position can cause a blockage in the respiratory system and forces the body to work twice as hard to breathe.

A person sleeping on their back with a pillow under their knees.

  • How: Place a pillow underneath your knees and hamstrings. Think of this as a make-shift adjustable bed. Try to elevate them two to three inches above the sleeping surface.
  • Why it works: Raising the legs shifts the pelvis and releases tension from the lower back.

4. Reclining Back With a Pillow Underneath Your Head
We mentioned earlier that sleeping on your back keeps the body in a fully supported position. The Orthopedic Associates of St. Augustine University notes that it can help avoid unnatural curves in the neck and spine. The one caveat is that it can cause people to snore.

A person sleeping on their back with two pillows propped under their head.

  • How: Lay on your back in a reclined position, with the pillow underneath your head and neck. Also, be sure to push your shoulders down and away from your ears.
  • Why it works: Placing a pillow under your head fits naturally under the neck’s natural curve, so there’s no extra stress on your neck. Laying straight like a log removes weight from posterior pressure points. And pushing the shoulders down prevents your traps (upper back muscles) from shrugging up and causing neck pain.

5. Sleeping Face Down with a Small Pillow Under Your Forehead
Sleeping face down has similar drawbacks to sleeping on your stomach, but if you add two pillows, it can help you get a good night’s rest while decreasing back pain.

A person sleeping face-down with a pillow under their stomach and a smaller pillow on their forhead.

  • How: Place a small pillow beneath the forehead and thicker pillow underneath the abdomen.
  • Why it works: Sleeping face down and using both pillows raises the upper torso evenly, removing stress from the neck, spine and hips.

Bedtime shouldn’t cause anxiety due to back pain. By implementing these tactics, they should provide some nighttime relief. While trying a new sleeping position isn’t always easy, you’ll save money on chiropractic and doctor visits, and finally enjoy bedtime again. For extra comfort, you can always upgrade to a new Foam Pillow or the Wave Hybrid Mattress, our most advanced mattress with gel pods that provide targeted support for spinal alignment.