How to Get Better Sleep With Chronic Lower Back Pain

It’s a bit of a paradox: Having chronic lower back pain can make it difficult to sleep, yet sleeping well at night is one of the keys to promoting good back health overall. How do you break the vicious cycle? Let’s look at some general ways people suffering from lower back pain can sleep better at night, followed by a few specific tips based on your current condition.

Get a Better Mattress

Many people find improved sleep and a reduction in back pain simply by getting a mattress that offers better support where they need it. If you feel more pain when lying down, if you feel unsupported, or if your mattress is over 5 years old, it may be time to invest in a new one.

The best mattress for you won’t necessarily be the most expensive one, but rather one that provides support for the natural curve of your spine. For most people, a medium-firm mattress does the trick, but the best way to know whether a mattress will work for you is to test it out. Take your time at the mattress store, and try out a few. If you still feel comfortable after lying on the mattress for 10-15 minutes, that’s a good sign. If you sleep with a partner with different needs, you might consider buying an adjustable bed that allows you each to find your “sweet spot.”

Go to Bed When You’re Sleepy

If you’re not truly tired, chances are you’ll toss and turn, which makes you more uncomfortable and puts you into a cycle of stress. Allow yourself to become tired before hitting the sack. If you’re not sleepy because you didn’t exert yourself enough during the day, however, now isn’t the time to get your heart rate up. If you have a pattern of not being sleepy at night, try doing some low-impact exercises during the day — exercises that won’t hurt your back.

Adjust Your Posture with Pillows

Sometimes all it takes to bring some relief is a slight change of posture. If you are a back sleeper, for example, try putting a pillow under your knees to take some of the undue pressure off your spine. If you prefer to sleep on your side, try placing a pillow between your legs at the knees.

Sleeping Tips for Specific Conditions

When it comes to sleeping better with chronic lower back pain, one solution is not right for everyone. Sometimes the cause of your back pain will inform the best way for you to sleep. Your spine doctor may have some specific advice for you, but here are a few general tips for patients suffering from certain conditions that cause lower back pain.

Spinal Stenosis

Many people with spinal stenosis find the most comfort sleeping on their side in “fetal position” — that is, with knees curled up toward the abdomen. Another alternative is to sleep in an adjustable bed or recliner that allows the head and knees to remain elevated. Both of these solutions take pressure off the spine while sleeping.

Osteoarthritis

Patients whose back pain stems from osteoarthritis also frequently find comfort sleeping on their sides in fetal position because it takes pressure off the facet joints.

Degenerative disc disease

While sleeping on one’s stomach is usually not recommended for the spine, patients with degenerative disc disease may find this position helps alleviate some pressure from the affected disc(s), especially if a pillow is placed under the lower abdomen to adjust the posture.

Herniated disc (lumbar region)

If lower back pain is caused by a herniated disc, most people find some relief by sleeping on their stomach, while others do better on their side in fetal position, depending on where the affected disc is located.


Of course, these are all general tips based on what works for the majority of people. Every person and every condition is slightly different, so don’t be discouraged if you try something that doesn’t work; just try another strategy, or better yet, talk to your doctor about solutions for getting better sleep with chronic back pain. To learn more, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center at 404-256-2633.

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