Ask almost anyone and they’re likely to say that they’ve experienced back pain at least once in their life. Unfortunately, for most of these people back pain isn’t a one-time occurrence, but a prolonged and seemingly endless battle to live without discomfort.
From specially designed exercise routines to frequent visits to the chiropractor, a great deal of these peoples’ lives revolves around ending, or at least alleviating, back pain.
However, many back pain sufferers don’t realize that their sleeping position can be a powerful factor in determining whether or not they experience a flare up. Back pain is highly individualized. Accordingly, the best sleeping position for one person may be the absolute worst for someone else.
It’s also worth noting that it’s rarely easy to change sleep habits that may have been several years in the making. Still, if the reward for finding the best position to sleep in is experiencing less back pain, then it’s definitely worth the effort.
Here are some thoughts on the best sleeping position for back pain sufferers, along with some ideas about why they may not work for you. You’ll have to take into account any other physical injuries or conditions you may be dealing with that might influence your ability to safely sleep in these positions.
Also, don’t forget to give yourself several nights to get accustomed to the best sleeping position for lower back pain. The more you practice sleeping in this position, the more comfortable it will become and the better your spine is likely to feel.
Best – Side Sleeping
This might be the best sleeping position for lower back pain. However, it may be necessary to make an adjustment or two. When a sleeper lies on one side, the top leg tends to roll forward and down so it can rest on the mattress. This can create a twisting pressure on the lower back, and this can also irritate the sciatic nerve.
To make this the best sleeping position for sciatica, place one or two pillows beneath the top leg. This eases that twisting pressure while providing welcome support to keep the spine and leg neutral.
Some people have also had success by placing a pillow between their legs if they are assuming more of a fetal position. While a basic pillow usually suffices, some people appreciate the comfort and support of a full length body pillow. One bonus for sleeping on the left side: Research shows that it may help alleviate heartburn.
Best and Worst – Back Sleeping
This best sleeping position can also be the worst depending upon how you do it. This can be the best position to sleep in if you place a pillow or two under your knees. Also called supine lying, this sleep position helps you maintain the natural curve of your spine. Additional comfort may be gained by placing a rolled towel under the small of your back.
Some people have also tried elevating the head with an additional pillow. This also encourages proper spinal alignment. If you sleep on your back and do not use any additional pillows for support, you may be causing yourself a great deal of back pain. When you lie on your back without any extra support, you are encouraging your spine to stay in a flexed position.
Flexion can irritate sciatica and lower back pain in some people, making this a bad choice. While lying on your back can be the best position for back pain sufferers, this is not a good alternative for those who snore or suffer from sleep apnea.
When you sleep on your back, gravity pulls your tongue back into the airway in your throat. This can be dangerous, so if snoring or sleep apnea is a problem for you, you may be much better off trying to sleep on your side.
Worst – Stomach Sleeping
There is virtually nothing positive about sleeping on your stomach. It causes your back to arch unnaturally, and this can certainly contribute to ongoing pain. In other words, when you sleep in a prone position, you’re causing your back to maintain an extension.
If you are one of those people whose back feels worse when in an extended position, then sleeping on your stomach is definitely a problem. Even if extension movements don’t exacerbate the back pain you experience, gravity is not on your side when stomach sleeping.
Despite the fact that this sleeping position has little to recommend it, some people still find it more comfortable than other positions. If this applies to you, it may be worthwhile to try a slight adjustment to ease the pressure on your spine. Place a pillow under your stomach or a bit lower under your pelvis. This helps your back maintain a more neutral position.
Even better, omit sleeping with your head on a pillow or find a very thin pillow to place under your head. Once again, this helps your spine maintain neutrality. This can also be a good way to begin training yourself to sleep on your side with a pillow beneath an upper leg or between your legs.
Scientists believe that most people are naturally inclined toward certain sleep positions. The general feeling is that attempting to tamper with this inclination can lead to a lot of disturbed nights. However, sometimes a medical condition, like ongoing back pain, forces people to change their sleep habits.
For many people, this is not an easy task. Begin by making certain that your bedroom is designed for optimum sleep. This means that the temperature is ideal for you, the room is dark enough to suit your preferences and you’ve taken adequate measures to ensure that you won’t be disturbed.
Next, you’ll have to make certain that you have any accessories, such as extra pillows, that may be required for trying a new sleep position. Keep in mind that this is going to be a period of trial and error. The first pillow you try placing under or between your legs may not be the right one. You may need to seek out a pillow that’s a different size, shape or firmness, and don’t forget that a full length body pillow can be very helpful.
If you fall asleep in your new position, but wake up in your habitual position, resolve to switch back to the new one. This helps train your body to remember the best sleeping position for your back, and you’ll begin to grow more comfortable with the change.