Leonardo da Vinci may have said, “A well-spent day brings happy sleep,” but your sleep can’t always be guaranteed to be happy if you’re in pain.
Back pain can make it tough to get a good night’s rest — just ask the more than 80 percent of Americans who suffer from back pain at some point in their lives.
At night, back pain can make it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position. Aches can curtail how long you sleep, and how deeply, or how well.
Sleep and pain have a complicated relationship, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., aka “The Sleep Doctor.”
“Pain—both chronic and acute—can interfere with sleep, making it harder to fall asleep and to stay asleep,” he says. “Poor quality and insufficient sleep decreases your tolerance to pain, increases its intensity and discomfort and in some cases, increases the risk of developing chronic pain conditions.”
Breus points to new research that suggests that poor sleep plays a significant role in the risk for widespread pain among older adults. In other words, if you wake up feeling tired, then you may be more likely to develop pain. Perhaps sleep deprivation lowers your pain tolerance. Or, perhaps tossing and turning leads to pain.
As the night winds on, those who suffer from back pain are caught in a vicious cycle of sleeplessness.
The answer is obvious: Get a good night’s sleep.
Common Sleeping Positions + Your Back
Not all sleeping positions are equal when it comes to good back health, and a good night’s sleep.
- On your side. Experts agree that the best sleeping position for your back is on your side, with your knees drawn up slightly toward your chest (sometimes referred to as a “fetal position”). A pillow can help make this position even more comfy — place one under your head for neck support, or between your knees, recommends the Mayo Clinic, to keep your spine in proper alignment and reduce any stress on your hips and lower back (try the Sleep Number knee pillow). Some side-sleepers may prefer to use a full-length body pillow or our multi-position boomerang pillow.
- On your back. Maybe you’re content to gaze at the ceiling before you drift off. To ensure the best alignment while face-up, put a pillow under your knees and perhaps a smaller one under your lower back.
- On your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach is the least ideal. It may help reduce snoring, but it has the potential to strain your back and neck and cause restlessness. If you can’t sleep any other way, try using a soft pillow under your pelvis or lower abdomen, Mayo Clinic recommends. Perhaps try the Soft Support down alternative pillow from Sleep Number. If you aren’t sure of the best pillow for your back needs, this quiz may help you narrow some options.
About Your Mattress…
Don’t underestimate the importance of proper support from your mattress. In a small study of 59 men and women, those who ditched their own mattresses for new, medium-firm ones reported significantly less stress.4 With the ability to adjust to your ideal level of firmness, comfort and support on both sides – your Sleep Number setting – we have a mattress for every body.
Ultimately, the key remains that good sleep, with some additional pillows and other easy adjustments, could give your back a rest.
“Maintaining a routine of high-quality sleep in plentiful amounts may be one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of experiencing physical pain,” says Breus.
May your nights be comfortable, cozy and pain-free.