Best Way To Sleep For Lower Back Pain Sufferers



Best Way To Sleep For Lower Back Pain Sufferers



A good nights sleep is priceless, and if you are having back problems it can really interfere with this very important time of the day. Sleeping is the time when your body is resting, recuperating, and healing from the days activities.

If you have problems with your spine, the stiffest, most painful part of the day is often first thing in the morning when you get out of bed. This can be due to your bed, or the position you sleep in. So what is the best way to sleep for back pain sufferers? Well there are a couple of different positions that are best, and one that is a definite bad choice. Read on to find out if you are actually making your back worse when you sleep.



Don't Ever Sleep Like This!

The worst way to sleep is lying front down on your tummy. For many this is become a bad habit and has become the only way they can sleep. But it is without a doubt the worst way to sleep.

In this face down position, your spine is forced into a slightly hyper-extended position, where the lower back arch is exaggerated. The problem with this is that it compresses the facet or spinal joints at the back of the spine, over a prolonged period of time. If you already have spinal problems, these joints are already under excess strain, so this position will continually aggravate your spinal problems every night.

The other concern with sleeping in this position is the amount of stress it places on your neck. When you lie face down you have to turn your head to be able to breathe. Habitual tummy sleepers tend to always turn their head one way. Now imagine if you sat in a chair with your head turned forcefully one way, and sat in that same position for even a few minutes. How stiff would your neck get if you stayed there for 20 minutes, and hour? What about all night?

This constant strain on your spine when you lie face down can lead to permanent spinal damage in the form of degenerative changes.


Always Sleep Like This!

There are 2 sleeping positions that are generally accepted to be the best, and do not cause any undue stress and strain on your spine.

The idea is to have your spine in a neutral position, keeping its natural shape. That is, not twisting or rotating, and not bending sideways. You also want to maintain the normal spinal arches.


1. Flat on your back with your knees slightly bent

This position relieves all stress from your spine. Try placing a pillow or 2 under your knees so you can fully relax, but keeping your knees bent. If you choose to sleep in this position, make sure your head is not been forced too high by an overly large pillow under your neck.



2. Lying on your side with a pillow between your knees

Many people prefer to sleep on their side, particularly if they are trying to get out of the habit of tummy sleeping (more on this down the page).


The best way to do this is exactly as it sounds, with one modification. Try to keep your bottom leg straight, with your top leg bent. So if you are lying on your left side, keep your left leg straight, and with your right leg bent up on top of a pillow. A larger, continental (square) style pillow is best.

Check the height of the pillow under your head and neck. Too high or too long can cause your neck to be slightly bent, not a good thing when you are looking after your spinal health. 



Which Bed?

This is a very common question, with no specific answer. Everyone is different obviously, but here are some guidelines when assessing your sleeping station!

Most mattresses will last up to 10 years at the most. After this they tend to not offer the required spinal support. You want a bed that is firm, but comfortable. If you are in the market for a new mattress, be prepared to spend some time. Try as many different beds and brands (and stores) as possible, and lay on each one for at least 10 minutes so you can get a feel for what is best for you. Be sure to buy from a reputable dealer. Buy the best quality mattress that you can afford, remember it is 8 hours a day that you will be on it (compare it to the cost of cars, that you might spend 30 minutes a day in).

Ensure your mattress is up to the job of supporting your body weight night after night. If you sleep the recommended 8 hours each night that is fully ONE THIRD of your life that you spend on your mattress! It is a worthwhile investment.



Breaking Bad Habits

If you are used to sleeping on your tummy, it can be a very hard habit to change. You may have a few nights of bad sleep as you have to force yourself not to role onto your tummy. But the effort is worth saving your spine.

The easiest way is the above position on your side. The pillow will stop you rolling onto your front, plus gives a bit of pressure on your tummy that you are used to. You will need to be persistent, and will probably wake several times through the night at first. But don't fret, most people adapt to a new sleep position fairly quickly.

If all else fails, you could always try taping some ping pong balls on your chest! Guaranteed to stop you lying face down!


If you have any questions, or would like to share your own experience, please leave us a comment below.

Also, if you have found this article helpful, please share it so we can help even more people! Thankyou.






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  1. I literally had no idea that sleeping lying front down on my tummy was so bad for my back!

    I have always suffered from chronic back pain, mostly due to my day job which involves lifting heavy objects. I actually woke up this morning with a bad back, now I come to think about it, I slept exactly how you say never too! I think most nights I sleep on my stomach, I will definitely be getting out of that habit.

    Thanks for this information, you really know your stuff. I’ve bookmarked your site so I can come back later and read some more of your articles.


  2. Thanks for this information. I was interested to read that tummy sleeping is not so good. I tend to sleep on my tummy a bit, so I’ll have to work on that, and focus more on side and flat-on-back sleeping. The pictures showing the best sleeping positions are particularly useful, and your first picture at the top of the article made me laugh. Thanks for a good read!

  3. In your “Don’t Ever Sleep Like This!” section, I sleep like that almost all the time, with one small change. I do not (cannot) sleep with a pillow. It does not feel right. When I wake in the morning, my neck feels fine. No problems.

    Sometimes, I do sleep like you suggest “lying on my side with a pillow between my knees.” Very comfortable.

    OK! I will try to NOT sleep on my tummy … ( 🙂 tummy is a funny word. ) Lets see how this goes. Thanks for the info.

  4. I am very impressed Dr. Brad! I myself have dealt with back issues. However, since I am only 21 and its not to the point where i’m having trouble walking or doing daily jobs, I haven’t put much thought into fixing it. There is an incredible amount of information on here that will help many people including myself. One thing I have always wondered is how to fix my sleeping habits when sleeping with a spouse!

    • HI Anthony.

      If you are already starting to have some trouble with your back, even at a young age, you really need to start doing something about it as soon as possible.

      Most spinal problems will continue to get worse unless they are dealt with and the correct treatment is obtained. I encourage you to read up as much as you can right here and start on some sort of spinal health exercise program.

      Dr Brad

  5. I have slept on my stomach my whole life until until just recently, when I found this information I know now why my sleep has been much improved after reading this information. Great information here keep up the good work very helpful.

    • Hi Keith,

      I am glad to hear that you are not sleeping on your stomach any more, it can lead to life long spinal problems.

      Dr Brad

  6. I used to sleep on my back and loved it. It was the most comfortable. Now, if I sleep on my back for 10 minutes I start snoring! Wake myself up (and my husband) so I have to turn over on my side. That is ok but it bothers my arm so I go from side, to tummy, to other side – constantly shifting all night Any suggestions for how to sleep on your back and not snore?! Lots of great info on this site. Thank you!

    • Hi Patt,

      There lots of contraptions available such as snore masks for people who sleep on their backs. I don’t know how effective they would be, but they sure would be uncomfortable.
      Sleeping on your side is the best way to go. If you are having arm problems sleeping this way, you may need to have a look at your pillow. If it is too high or too low, or even too old, it may be creating strain on your neck, which will then affect your arm.

      All the best,

      Dr Brad

  7. Great post, very informative. I’ve been fairly active throughout my life (military, fire brigade, distance running, weight training,long distance swimming etc), without suffering any real injury problems, now in my late thirties I feel like I’m falling apart and what hasn’t helped is sleeping on my front. I was told a while ago to change my position and as you say it can mean a few restless nights at first but now I feel so much better for it.
    I now spend many hours a day sat at a desk and have noticed I tend to slouch. Is there a recommended position to sit in whilst at a desk? Should I be sitting on a swiss ball or one of those chairs without a back?
    Many thanks and keep up the good work.

  8. Hi Anthony,

    It is never too early to start and look after your spine, because it has such a large effect on our whole health!

    Most back problems accumulate over time, so I encourage everyone to exercise ‘spinal hygiene’ regularly, just some simple exercises that you can find here, a few times a week makes a big difference.

    Have a great day,

    Dr Brad

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