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Sleep and Back Pain

In a move that has me feeling very old, today I'm sharing a guest post from Dr. Brent Wells, who is a chiropractor and member of the American Academy of Spine Physicians...because oh, my back. 
I've been working from home (we're in another Covid lockdown!) and it turns out that my cute wooden chair from Anthropologie needs to be strictly decorative.
Anthropologie chair
What's the best sleep position for back pain? Which mattress relieves pain? Advice from the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab:

Why Proper Sleep Posture Is Vital For Avoiding Back Pain

Sleep is a necessity. Your time in bed is bringing you rest and relaxation. Sleep is supposed to give the body time to rest to prepare for the next day, but waking up with back pain makes each day more difficult than the next. Insomnia from back pain makes each day a struggle.

All too often, back pain and discomfort is due to improper sleep posture. Like sitting and standing, the body can be negatively affected by poor posture. Unlike sitting and standing, you cannot do much to adjust your posture while sleeping, so you have to take steps to improve your sleep posture before you close your eyes.  

If you don’t sleep well, there are terrible consequences. The problems include:

     Weakened immune system

     Increased chances of developing heart problems

     Increased risk of developing cancer

     Problems with cognitive functioning

     Issues with memory

     Likelihood of weight gain

     Increased risk of diabetes

     Problems with skin appearance and quality

With a few simple changes, you can learn to sleep with herniated disc problems and other debilitating back issues. People tend to have a preferred sleep position, either on their sides, back, or stomach. You can stay in your preferred posture while learning to sleep comfortably.

How to reduce back pain

How to Use Pillows for Support

There are several helpful places to put pillows to help you relax and find comfort while sleeping.

For Back Sleepers

People who sleep on their backs can use pillows in two places while sleeping: under their heads and under their knees. The pillow under the head will support the natural curve in the neck as well as the shoulders and head. Placing a small pillow under the knees will help reduce pressure on the low back. It also lets the low back maintain the natural curve, too.

Consider that massage therapists put a pillow under their client’s knees when they lay on their backs on massage tables. This is to keep the low back comfortable during the session. You can do the same each night before you go to sleep.

For Side Sleepers

Side sleepers can also benefit from placing pillows in key locations. One of those is between the knees, so they can rest in a comfortable stacked position. With the knees stacked, the spine stays aligned keeping pressure off of the hips and low back.

Side sleepers also benefit from a small pillow under their waist to keep the spine aligned. Side sleepers should also bend their knees closer to their chests for more spine relief. They can also keep a pillow under their head to align the spine.

General Pillow Placement

If you move between different sleep positions, you can help yourself by putting pillows where there is empty space between your body and your mattress. These pillows might not stay in place all night, but the time that they do helps.

Alignment and Moving

While sleeping, you should try to keep your spine aligned. The best to determine this is to keep the ears, shoulders, and hips in a line. Do this while sleeping and while turning in bed. If you wake before you turn in bed, move your body as a whole. Bend your knees and engage your abdominal muscles to turn without pain.

Sleep on a Supportive Mattress

If you want to sleep without back pain, you need a mattress that is comfortable and provides necessary support. The mattress you choose needs to be supportive so you wake up without pain. 

While being supportive, mattresses also need to support the shape of your body. If you share the mattress, you need to have room to turn and move. Some couples sleep in mattresses that are too small, which only increases the possibility of waking up with discomfort.

Traditional mattresses are built to last approximately 8 years. If you have a mattress that is older than that, it is time to buy a new one. Your chiropractor or health care provider can help you decide on a mattress that will help you with your back issues.

Choose the Right Pillow

Along with having a supportive mattress, you need to sleep with a comfortable pillow for your head. When your head is in the right position, your spine will be in an aligned position.

Consider the natural curve in the neck when choosing a pillow, as the size and shape of the pillow can hurt your back or create comfort. When your neck hurts, the rest of your spine can be extremely uncomfortable too.

Most pillows only last about a year. A high quality memory foam pillow lasts longer, but still needs eventual replacement. The pillow you choose should be supportive if you sleep on your side, back, or belly. It needs to keep your neck in line with your back and upper body.

Sleep and Back Pain

Worst Sleep Position for Back Pain

Sleeping on your stomach can exacerbate your back pain. It creates muscle tension in your joints, necks, and spine. People who sleep on their stomachs often wake up with back pain. The worst position for sleeping is on your stomach. According to research, sleeping on your belly on a soft mattress can aggravate your back pain from bad to worse.

Best Sleep Position to Relieve Back Pain

The best position for sleeping without back pain is on your back. This position keeps your head, neck, spine, and hips in alignment in a neutral posture. When you put a pillow under your neck and your knees, the posture becomes even better for the lower back. 

If you sleep on your side, you are also helping your back. Pregnant women should always sleep on their sides. If you use pillows under your head and between your knees, you can keep your spine aligned. When you sleep on your side with pillows, you are more likely to wake up comfortably. Most adults sleep on their sides, according to research.

About Dr. Wells

Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Anchorage in 1998. He is currently leading 10,000 Alaskans to more active and pain-free lifestyles without drugs or invasive surgeries. He brings a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic care, physical rehab therapy, and massage therapy in Anchorage. Dr. Wells continues to further his education with ongoing studies in spine conditions, neurology, physical rehabilitation, biomechanics, occupational ergonomics, whiplash, and brain injury traumatology. He is also a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.


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