Three sleeping positions to help with back pain

A guest blog post for World Sleep Day from our friends at Live Healthily.


You’ve probably heard it over and over again, but getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body. However, if you have poor posture while you sleep, it’s possible to end up with back pain in fact, this is a leading cause of backache. 

So, if you have back pain or want to prevent it in the future, it’s worth taking a closer look at how you sleep.

The link between a poor sleeping position and back pain all comes down to your spine’s natural structure. It’s a column of small bones (vertebrae) with four natural curves. And when properly aligned, it should form a fairly straight line from your head to your back, knees and feet. But, when you sleep, your spine can be forced out of alignment, making your muscles work harder to maintain good posture. Over time, this can end up causing back pain.

So, what’s the best position for back pain?

The truth?

There isn’t one. Some positions work better for different types of back pain than others, and it’s best to just pay attention to your body. If a position makes your back feel worse avoid it. 

Try the guide below to help you figure out the best sleeping position for your back. 

Sleeping on your back

It’s actually quite uncommon for people to sleep on their backs, but it can be good for preventing neck and back pain. A good way to make sure your back is supported is by putting a small towel in the arch of your back, and if you’re after more comfort, try trucking a pillow under your knees.

While sleeping on your back can help relieve some back pain, it does have some potential downsides. For example, you might find yourself snoring more, as this position tends to leave your tongue partially blocking your airway. In this case, it’s probably best to roll back onto your side. Another drawback is waking up with acid reflux. If this keeps happening, try propping your pillow up further to keep your head above your chest. You should also think about speaking with a doctor for advice on how to best manage any acid reflux symptoms you have. 

Finally, it’s important to note there’s some research to suggest that sleeping on your back isn’t safe if you’re more than 28 weeks pregnant – so it’s best to avoid this position if this is you.

Sleeping on your stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, then congratulations, you’re among only 7% of people who do. However, sleeping on your stomach has been linked to a bad back as it can add extra stress to your neck.

All isn’t lost though. If you’re the kind of person who can only sleep on their front, you don’t have to try and train yourself to sleep in another position. Simply place a pillow under your pelvis and lower tummy to relieve any pressure on your back. Depending on how the position feels, also use a pillow for your head. It’s usually best to aim for the thinnest pillow possible, to make sure your back stays aligned.

Some front sleepers also find that using a body pillow allows them to sleep comfortably on their side. By holding it tight against the body, it gives the same feeling as something pressed against your tummy and helps keep the rest of your body aligned.

Sleeping in the foetal position

It’s really common to sleep like a baby. Most people up to 40% sleep like this, and there’s some evidence that it’s a position that’s good for relieving some types of back pain. By tucking your hands under your chin and bringing the knees up to your stomach, your spine is kept in a neutral position.

That being said, sleeping in the foetal position can make some back problems worse. If you commonly feel pain moving out of this position, it might be a sign that this isn’t the best sleeping position for your type of back pain. This can be particularly common for people who curl up too tightly when they sleep, and if you commonly find yourself waking up feeling sore, it might be worth trying to straighten your body out a little.

Other quick tips

Light sleepers often find that moving around too much can aggravate back pain, but there’s an easy trick for that. Simply place a pillow to one side or tuck a small ball into one or both of your pyjama trousers. Our bodies don’t like rolling onto something, so this could help you to stay in one place.

Lastly, if you get lower back pain a lot, it might be worth looking at your mattress. Mattresses with medium firmness can help to support your back while still being comfortable enough to sleep.

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Article sources:

https://www.livehealthily.com/daily-drop-in/6th-june

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/multimedia/sleeping-positions/sls-20076452

https://iiy.nwas.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Correct-Sleeping-Posture-Guide.pdf


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