Sleeping With Back Pain: How to Sleep Comfortably

Sleeping With Back Pain How To Sleep Comfortably

Back pain is one of the main reasons why some people regularly skip work.

It is also one of the reasons so many young people need to visit the doctor so often. Back pain is, in fact, the leading cause of disability in people under the age of 45.

It can be painful and uncomfortable to the point of it being debilitating.  Most people tend to experience back pain at least once in their lives.

The good news is that there are many preventative and curative measures you can take to seek relief from back pain.

Many of these measures are simple, and can even be carried out from the comfort of your home. You almost always will not require surgery to seek relief from back pain.

There can be many causes of back pain. It can be caused by an injury, an accident, a medical condition of some sort, or even just age.

In fact, as you grow older, you are more likely to increase your chances of developing back pain. This is owing to factors such as your last job, or degenerative disk disease, in more severe cases.

Back pain can be of the lower back as well as of the upper back.

Pain in the lower back is generally associated with the bony lumbar spine, the skin around the lumbar region, pelvic and abdominal internal organs, the muscles in the lower back, the discs between the various vertebrae, the ligaments around the discs and spine, and the nerves and spinal cord.

In contrast, upper back pain can be due to aorta disorders, spinal inflammation, and chest tumors.

When sleeping with back pain, you must first learn what causes it.

Common Causes of Back Pain

woman wakes up with back pain

The human back is made up of a complex structure of ligaments, muscles, disks, tendons, discs, and bones.

All of these tend to work together to provide support to your body, which in turn allows you to move around.

The segments of your spine are generally cushioned with cartilage-like pads that are called discs.

There are many different causes of back pain.

Typically, back pain happens because something might be wrong with the way that your discs, muscles, spinal joints and nerves fit with each other and move together.

Although the reason for back pain isn’t always known, generally speaking, back pain can be caused by strain, bad posture, and medical conditions.

Damage can result from strain, medical conditions, and poor posture, among others

Here are some of the most common causes of back pain:


Back pain is often caused by tension, strain, or injury. Strain constitutes muscle spasm, muscle tension, injuries, damaged discs, strained ligaments etc.

Certain other human activities can also lead to strain. These include, lifting up something too heavy, lifting up something incorrectly, or making an awkward movement.

Structural Problems

Structural problems can also often cause back problems. The most common structural problems are the following.

Slipped or Herniated Discs

woman with herniated disc

If your doctor tells you have ‘slipped’ or herniated discs, it means that the soft tissue located in the discs between the joints of your body, has come out.

The main cause of herniated or slipped discs is over-exhaustion or too much wear and tear.

If you suffer from herniated or skipped discs, you are likely to experience pain in your lower back region or hip region because the nerves in these parts of your body will be pressed.

Bulging or Protruding Discs

These also tend to bulge or protrude, but not to the same extent as herniated discs.

The symptoms of this cannot be felt as strongly. You are however likely to feel it if it pushes on your nerve root.

Degenerative disc disease

In case of degenerative disc disease, the discs between your spine’s vertebrae begin to either shrink or tear.

As a result, your bones will rub together. It is common for people to experience this as they grow older and is not generally something young people need to worry about much.

Spinal Stenosis 

This is something that commonly affects people over the age of 60.  What happens here is that spinal canal tends to narrow down, adding pressure on both your spine as well as your nerves.

As a consequence of this, your shoulders and legs are most likely to feel numb.

Inflammation  of the Sacroiliac Joint

Sacroiliac Joint Inflammation

The sacroiliac joint is situated between your spine and pelvic region.  

Although this joint doesn’t usually move much, it is still an important joint because it helps moves the upper body’s load to the lower part of the body.

It is possible for your sacroiliac joint to swell up because of an injury, infection, arthritis, or even in the aftermath of a pregnancy.

Cervical Radiculopathy 

This basically just refers to a pinched nerve.

This pinched nerve is caused usually by a herniated disc or a bone spur.


Here, a sharp, shooting sort of pain can be experienced travelling through your buttock and down the back of your leg.

Sciatica is generally caused by a bulging or a herniated disc that may be pressing on a nerve point.


Arthritis can almost always cause problems with the joints in your lower back region, hip region, and several other places.

Abnormal Curvature of Spine

It may sometimes be that your spine appears to curve in a strange manner. In such cases, you may experience back pain. 

One example of this is scoliosis. Here the spine tends to curve to one side.


In this disease, your bones, including the vertebrae of your spine tend to become porous and brittle.  This makes it far more likely for you to experience compression fractures.

Kidney problems

 Kidney problems such as kidney stones or even a kidney infection can cause back pain in some cases.

Posture and Movement

lifting heavy objects

 There are a number of everyday activities that can cause back pain as well. These include:

  • Twisting
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Stretching too much
  • Bending in strange positions for extended periods
  • Lifting heavy weights
  • Pulling, lifting, or carrying something too heavy or improperly
  • Standing for too long
  • Sitting for too long
  • Straining your neck too much when driving or using the computer
  • Too much time in the car
  • A bad mattress that does not provide proper back support or help straighten the spine

Other causes

There are some other medical conditions that are also associated with back pain. These include:

Spine Cancer

Sometimes, a tumor on the spine can press against a nerve, causing back pain.

Spine Infection

You may experience a fever and a warm area on your spine if you have a spinal infection.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

The cauda equina refers to a bundle of spinal nerve roots. These tend to rise from the lower end of your spinal cord.

Symptoms of this syndrome include a dull pain in the lower part of your back and even upper buttocks, and also numbness in the genitalia, the buttocks, and the thighs.

You might even experience functional disturbances in the bowel and bladder.

Other infections

Other infections that can also cause back pain are Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, bladder infection, or kidney infection.

Sleep disorders

Generally speaking, those who suffer from sleeping disorders tend to experience more back pain than those who do not.


Any infection that tends to affect the nerves can cause back pain.

It all however depends on which nerves are being affected.

Risk factors

lack of lifestyle activities

Certain factors can increase or decrease your chances of developing back pain. These include:

  • A lazy lifestyle
  • Poor fitness
  • Certain occupational activities
  • Pregnancy
  • Old Age
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Strenuous physical exercise or work, if done improperly
  • genetic factors
  • medical conditions, such as cancer and arthritis 

Lower back pain is typically more common in women as compared to men, perhaps because of hormonal factors. Furthermore, stressanxiety, and other mood disorders have also been associated with lower back pain.

How to Sleep with Back Pain?

Back pain makes it hard enough to get by through the day, but even harder to sleep at night. Your back pain might be preventing you from finding the right sort of position to comfortably sleep in.

Good sleep is essential for health. Thankfully, there are a number of mattresses, pillows, medications etc that can help you get a good rest even with your back paining all through the night.

Here’s what you can do to sleep well at night in spite of your back pain.

The Right Mattress

woman with backpain in the morning

The type of mattress that suits you ultimately depends on your body type.

Typically, a softer mattress might be better for you if your hips are wider than your waist as this allows your spine to remain straight while you sleep

If however, your hips and waist already align well with each other, a harder mattress might be better for you as this can give you more support. 

Most people spend a significant portion of their lives in bed and as a result having the right mattress is very important. This applies even more to those who suffer from back pain. 

While doctors in the past tended to recommend very firm mattresses, it has been recently discovered that those people who sleep on the hardest mattresses had the poorest quality of sleep.

There was not too much of a difference in sleep quality between those people who used firm and those who used medium-firm mattresses.

A mattress should also not be too soft however. If the mattress is too soft, this can also be problematic. A soft mattress is desirable in that it can conform to the natural curves of your body.

This might help your joints to align well with each other. If the mattress is too soft however, it is possible that your joints might sink in so deeply that they twist and become painful during the night.

If you want to discover whether or not a harder mattress would feel better for you than the one that you’re currently using, what you can do is to put a plywood board underneath your mattress.

This can help dampen the movement from your bedsprings. Alternatively, you can even try putting your mattress on the floor.

You can always even go to a mattress showroom and test out a number of different models, until you find one that works for you.

You can even try out different mattresses at your friend’s or family’s homes.

The Right Pillows

man sleeps without backpain

Many people tend to overlook the importance of the right pillows to avoid back pain during sleep.

A pillow that doesn’t fit well can strain your neck, causing or increasing back pain.

It doesn’t matter what sleeping position you opt for. A good pillow is generally one that can adjust to various movements and help support a neutral spine.

Those who tend to sleep on their stomachs should go for a higher-fill pillow, or a neck/contour style pillow. The pillow should always support your neck, and keep it at g a natural angle.

A pillow that is not deep enough can make your head bend inwards. This will in turn put strain on your shoulder.

A pillow that is too high can also cause tension in your neck. For those who sleep on their sides, a body pillow is often preferred.

This is because you can hug the body pillow to your chest, in order to chest to prevent any shoulder pain that can be caused by awkward arm positions. The body pillow can even be placed between the knees in order to keep your spine straight.

For those who sleep on their backs, medium fill pillow are perhaps the best option. When you are sitting up straight, this is the same angle that your pillow will provide when you are lying down.

If your chin is angled towards your chest, it is far too high. If your head falls back, it is far too low.

Side sleepers should typically look for pillows that are pretty thin with just enough padding to cushion their faces but not too thick because if it is too thick, the neck will be forced backward.


pills for backpain on the bed

Depending on the cause of your back pain, your doctor might prescribe a number of different medications to help you sleep better at night.

These generally include, Over-the-counter (OTC) painrelievers including Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (examples include Advil, Motrin IB, among others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). These are known for relieving acute back pain.

Do be careful that when you take these medications, you follow the doctors’ directions. Overusing any such medications can be seriously detrimental and can cause harmful side effects.

The doctor might alternatively prescribe you muscle relaxants to help ease the pain. This is especially true if the OTC medications fail to be effective. Muscle relaxants can however make you dizzy and sleepy.

You can even use topical pain relievers to ease your back pain. These refer to creams, ointments and salves that you rub into your skin wherever you feel pain.

In more extreme circumstances, you can even resort to narcotics, as directed by your doctor. 

Drugs that contain opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, may be used for a short time but only under close supervision of your doctor.

Low doses of certain types of antidepressants, especially tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, have also show to relieve certain types of chronic back pain.

Sometimes, if nothing else seems to be working, you can even use other measures to relieve yourself of pain.

Your doctor can maybe inject you with cortisone, which is an anti-inflammatory medication.

A cortisone injection can help decrease inflammation around your nerve roots, and the pain relief usually lasts about a month.

Should you stretch out your back before sleeping?

There are many stretches you can do right before sleeping that can prevent you from experiencing too much back pain while you sleep.

The simplest one is to simply lie down on your back, hugging your knees into you. You can even slightly sway your body on both sides.

Doing this stretch daily before bed can do wonders for your back pain.

Sleeping with back pain can be a real nuisance, but with these tactics, and by investing in a decent mattress and pillow, you can easily avoid it.

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