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Is your sleep position causing back pain?

A man sleeps on his back

July 27, 2023—Sleep is essential to your health and wellness. But if you have low-back pain or neck pain, you may have trouble getting enough ZZZs.

There's a close relationship between lower back pain and sleep disruption, says the Sleep Foundation. Pain can disrupt sleep, and poor sleep can trigger pain or make existing pain worse. Researchers aren't sure why this is the case, but it could be because sleep disruption can affect a person's mood or pain sensitivity. It also may affect the body's ability to heal.

Position yourself for better sleep

If pain in your lower back or neck is interfering with your sleep, think about your usual sleep position. Some are better than others for your spine's natural alignment. But whether you sleep on your back, side or stomach, try these tips to support your neck and back better.

Back sleepers:

Sleep experts say sleeping on your back is ideal for relieving lower back pain. This position maintains the normal curves and alignment of your spine. If you sleep on your back:

  • Use a thin pillow under your head.
  • Place a second small pillow or a rolled towel under your lower back, knees or legs.

Back sleeping isn't best for everyone. If you have sleep apnea or another condition that makes sleeping on your back less safe, try switching to your side.

Side sleepers:

Side-sleeping also can help relieve pain. To protect your back and neck in this position:

  • Choose a pillow that is thick enough to keep your neck in alignment with your head.
  • Bend your knees slightly to reduce pressure on your lower back. Putting a pillow between your knees may make you more comfortable.

If you are pregnant, side-sleeping is likely the most comfortable position for you. View our tips on how to rest better during your pregnancy.

Stomach sleepers:

Bad news: This position can aggravate lower back and neck pain. It pulls your spine out of alignment and strains your neck. If you're living with back or neck pain, you may want to consider switching sleep positions.

If you do sleep on your stomach:

  • Rest your head on a thin pillow.
  • Place a thicker pillow under your abdomen and hips.

Check your mattress

Your sleep position can affect your back—and so can the mattress you sleep on. Research suggests that the best mattress for your back is one that's medium-firm rather than very firm.

The age of your mattress matters, too. One that is too old may be soft, lumpy and unable to give your back the support it needs. If you've had your mattress for more than seven years or if it is showing signs of wear, it might be time to replace it.

If you try a new sleep position but your lower back and neck pain doesn't improve, or if it gets worse, it may be time to talk to your doctor.


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