Sleeping With Back Pain

Sleeping with back pain

The average adult should be sleeping 7 to 9 hours each night. The National Sleep Foundation claims that those with chronic back pain get approximately 42 minutes less sleep a night than the recommended amount. 

Failing to treat your sleeping troubles can make your back pain symptoms worse. Poor sleep reduces your pain threshold and makes everything hurt more than it would if you slept well. The same effect can occur as a result of depression which is a side effect of inadequate sleep.

Optimal/Pain Reducing Sleeping Positions

Being in the wrong position can influence poor quality sleep and trigger pain in many parts of the body. If possible, you should always sleep on your back because it ensures proper alignment of the spine. There are a few different positions you can choose from so consider what will work best for you.

Positions for Back Sleepers

Back-sleeping positions are the best choice. These positions do increase snoring and must be avoided if you have sleep apnoea.

  • The Soldier.– The Best Sleeping Position. The Soldier consists of laying on your back with your arms at your sides. This position is great for spinal alignment. Your lower back will not have an unnatural curve.
  • The Starfish. – The Second Best Position. The Starfish consists of laying on your back with your legs spread and arms up by your head. This position is great for spinal alignment. Your arm positioning will cause unnecessary stress to your shoulders.

Positions for Stomach Sleepers

Stomach-sleeping positions are inferior to back/side positions. For heavier people, a stomach-sleeping position can cause the stomach to push back to the spine. This pressure will result in lower back pain if the mattress isn’t very soft.

  • The Freefaller. This position consists of laying on your stomach with your arms up and head to the side. This position causes a constant neck strain which leads to problems with neck pain. Your arm might be put under your head or pillow which causes shoulder issues.

Positions for Side Sleepers

Side-sleeping positions are superior to stomach positions. For heavier people, a side-sleeping position can be difficult to manage because the pressure of your weight can cause stress to the back. Few mattresses are made effectively for heavier side-sleepers.

  • The Log. – The Log consists of laying on your side with your arms against your body. This position supports natural spinal alignment. Your top leg will not have any support which can cause hip and lower back pain as you cannot prevent your spine from rotating while you sleep.
  • The Yearner. – The Yearner consists of laying on your side with your arms stretching out. This position supports natural spinal alignment. Your top leg still has no support and your arms and shoulders will also have unnecessary stress.

What Are You Sleeping On?

Mattress firmness should be chosen based on your choice of sleeping position. However, whether you are a petite or a heavy-set person will also be a factor. Heavier people have more bodyweight pressure and the mattress they use needs to be compensatory. 

  • Back-sleeping is best on a medium-firm mattress. Heavier people should lean to the firmer side to prevent their lower back from sinking into the bed.
  • Stomach-sleeping is best on a medium-firm (for heavier people) or firm mattress (for lighter people).
  • Side-sleeping is best on a medium-soft mattress. For heavier people, foam over coil provides adequate back support and pressure relief at the same time.

Another way to control how your sleep position impacts your back pain and sleep quality is by using a sleep positioner. A body pillow can serve this purpose effectively as it blocks you from rolling over. A leg positioner pillow can help a side-sleeper maintain perfect spinal alignment. Also, a lumbar pillow can help with maintaining your natural lower back curve while you sleep.


Your sleeping habits can trigger pressure point pain and cause sleep disturbance. A poor night’s sleep will intensify your back pain and create a vicious cycle. Getting better sleep and reducing back pain will only happen if you sleep in the right position⁠ and on a mattress that is appropriate for you.

If you are sleeping with back pain, learn how Oasis Medical Group can help you rediscover pain-free sleep. Start with our free Pain Assessment Tool below.