Humans sleep for a significant amount of time in their lives even if you do not enjoy the recommended minimum 7 hours of sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2018) with nearly 35% of adults today, it is still important to get some sleep. It can be difficult to sleep with back pain and so it is important to learn how to avoid back pain while sleeping.
Sleep impacts our energy levels, mood, recovery, rehabilitation, and much more. There are benefits to making sure you get adequate rest when experiencing pain and ways to enhance back health while you sleep.
Additionally, certain positions can encourage back pain and others can help you avoid back pain while sleeping. It is as important to be smart about what you do before bed to prepare for sleep as what your position is in bed if you want to avoid back pain. Recommendations from the CDC for getting a good night’s sleep are useful with or without pain because quality rest enhances recovery.
To gain some perspective on the state of sleep and back pain here are some interesting statistics on both from the CDC:
- 35% of all adults in the United States get less than 7 hours of sleep per night.
- Those who sleep these than 7hrs per night are more likely to be obese (33%, <7 hours and >7 hours 26%), physically inactive (27%-20%), and smoke (22-15%) than those who do get sufficient sleep.
- Chronic health conditions such as heart disease (4.7% and 3.4%), stroke (3.6% and 2.4%), depression (22%-15%), and many more are more prevalent with less than 7 hours of sleep each night.
- In 2009 30% of Americans reported experiencing back pain within a 3 month period.
- Back pain prevalence in adults is on the rise over the last 20 years.
- Most Americans, nearly 8 out of 10 will experience some form of back pain in their life.
Looking at these stats alone we cannot say that these two are related, but considering the evidence of the relationship that sleep and back pain avoidance have it is hard to disregard a correlation between the two. Thinking solely about the health benefits of having a healthy spine and good night’s rest in not only avoiding back pain but overall health is beneficial on its own.
We should also be asking ourselves how our culture of sedentary lifestyles impacts these two areas and the rest of our health. We know the benefits of diet, exercise, and sleep individually and together as a whole picture of health. Focusing on sleep may drive our ability to exercise and make good choices at meal times too.
Going even further, if you could just focus on one aspect of your life to change for the better sleep should be considered. Often diet and exercise, saving money, and other things come first.
But what is you solely focused on getting to be and waking up at the same time every day?
Or at least a few days of the week?
From there you could try and go to be 10-15 minutes earlier to get closer to the 7 recommended hours each night. It is said that losing 5% of your body weight can have positive results for those who are struggling with their weight. If 5% more sleep is standing between you and more energy, less pain, and a healthier life then getting to bed on time will become a higher priority.
In a nutshell, your bedroom is best suited for sex and sleeping and should be kept that way. There are many distractions such as phones, televisions, etc. that are commonplace in bedrooms around the world. But if you are wanting to focus on your sleep make the environment supportive of that the CDC recommends in order to get a good night’s sleep consistency is key. Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day building a routine that works for you.
More specific ways to get better sleep and avoid or assist relief of back pain is to create a routine. If there are exercises or stretches that provide relief for you back pain do them right before bed as exercising will help with getting you tired and providing relief through movement will help you sleep better. Creating an association of relief with bed time will allow you to get the most out of your sleep and further aide your back pain in a positive direction.
Sleep Time and Back Health
In a 2010 study by Auvinen et al looking at insufficient sleep and prevalence of low back pain in adolescents, there were significant connections to lack of sleep and low back pain in both boys and girls. Following up with these teenagers two years after the study began insufficient sleep over that time period was predictive of the neck and low back pain (Auvinen, 2010). Starting as basic as how long you sleep may have an impact in lowering your risk for neck and back pain as you age.
Sleeping well will encourage pain relief for various reasons but one of the biggest ones is hormone release, specifically growth hormone, to help repair muscles while you sleep. If you do not sleep long enough you are unable to experience REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and hormone release.
The nervous system needs a break to decompress and help your body recover. With disrupted or short sleeping hours the odds are not in your favor for a quick recovery from back pain.
This makes sense as sleep is such a large part of our lives and also something many people, nearly 35% of adults today as mentioned previously, struggle to achieve optimum sleep. If there is one thing that you can do to improve your back health, let alone your overall health, focusing on your quality and length of sleep would be one of them.
This is not an easy task, but it also does not need a diagnosis, prescription, or much special equipment. Creating healthy routines and a supportive environment to encourage sleep is mostly on the actions of the sleeper.
Not only is it important to sleep in the right environment for the right amount of time but the position you sleep in is also important. Sleeping on your back or stomach is less favorable than sleeping on your side. You should consider your individual needs including snoring, and other respiratory disorders, back pain, etc. to find the right position for yourself.
However, there is one position overall that is associated with better sleep and takes the load of your back and shoulders. This position is sleeping on your side with your top arm and leg supported by pillows.
This side-lying position can be a bit to set up but decreases rotation in the hips and spine from the support of the bolstering pillows. While sleeping, this position is one of the best ways to avoid back pain because it eliminates the risk of exacerbating the pain. If this position does not work you can also lay on your back with a foam roll or pillow behind your knees.
A third option would be to stack pillows or blankets high enough so that your legs are fully supported and you have a 90-degree angle and the hips and knees to completely take the pressure off of your low back while sleeping.
As these positions are the favorable make sure to notice if they do not work for you. Sometimes suggested positions that are thought to be more ergonomic can cause some issues for people. Try each one of them out for a week or more (unless they clearly are uncomfortable from the start) and notice how your quality and length of sleep changes. If you have a decrease in symptoms of increase in a range of motion or energy the next day you may have found the best position for you. Physical therapists should ask you about your sleep if you are seeking treatment for a back disorder too.
What to Avoid
Now that you have a grasp on how to get good sleep, why it helps you avoid low back pain, and different positions to meet your needs it is important to know what not to do while sleeping with back pain. Simply put, do not avoid getting good rest. It is easy to think that laying around on the couch all day is helpful, and it may be in the moment, but long-term back health demands movement if able and laying on the couch all day resting will not encourage good sleep and recovery.
Another thing to avoid is not seeking medical care for your back. If the pain persists, gets worse, or continues for more than a few days you must seek professional help whether it is your primary care doctor, physical therapist, or the emergency room. There is only so much self-care can accomplish without a diagnosis of your condition.
However, once you do seek treatment for getting good sleep will be beneficial for you. Talk with your healthcare professional about how sleep can help you as an individual and if there are certain positions or activities you should avoid.
Finally, make sure you understand your individual needs. This means that you must experiment with what takes your symptoms of discomfort away and what makes them worse. Whether it is back, neck, or shoulder pain.
There are many happy back and stomach sleepers out there regardless of the assumed disadvantages of that position. At the same time, there are many side sleepers who are uncomfortable because they were told to sleep that way but it does not work for them.
The goal is to get quality rest that is relaxing and comfortable. If you can focus on that you will avoid back pain while sleeping.