Never underestimate what difference adopting the best position to sleep for lower back pain can make to not only your quality of sleep but also your quality of life.
If you’re one of the 577.0 million people around the world who suffer from lower back pain, you don’t need us to tell you how truly uncomfortable it can be to try and get a decent night’s rest with your condition.
Still, this isn’t just about you waking up tired, sore, and possibly a little cranky.
If you’re ever going to heal, recover, or at the very least find some relief from that pain, your body needs plenty of good quality rest in order to aid that recovery process.
In other words, the longer you go without finding a comfortable way to sleep with lower back pain, the longer your condition is likely to persist.
The great news is that it doesn’t have to be like this.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll outline not only the top three best sleeping positions for lower back pain sufferers but also why your lumbar region may be hurting in the first place and what you can do to improve your nightly shuteye above and beyond by simply switching up the way you sleep.
Why Do We Get Lower Back Pain?
The first thing we need to know about lower back pain is that there are actually two specific types.
The first is acute back pain. This is a short-term condition that is often caused by overexertion, heavy lifting, or an identifiable injury.
If you remember recently hurting your back (or at least using your back muscles more than average, this might actually be good news).
Acute back pain usually only lasts for a few days and tends to get better on its own. Once the body has successfully healed itself, you should feel just as fit and healthy as you did before the injury.
The other type of back pain, however, is a little more severe.
Chronic back pain is a long-term condition that typically lasts for three months or more and often has no identifiable cause.
In fact, despite affecting 7.5% of the worldwide population and being the leading cause of disability across the world, some 85% – 95% of people don’t have a specific diagnosable cause for their lower back pain.
Of those that do have an identifiable cause, 5% are due to inflammatory spondyloarthropathies, 4.5% are down to osteoporotic vertebral fractures, and just 0.01% are caused by infections.
Whatever the case may be for you, getting enough quality sleep each night is imperative.
Research has shown that sleep and back pain can form a cycle of cause-and-effect. The worse the back pain is, the harder it is to sleep, yet the worse we sleep, the more chances we have of developing or exacerbating our pain.
Though no definitive explanation for this has yet been found, experts suggest that it could be a combination of things, including the body’s inability to properly heal due to poor sleep and heightened levels of stress and low mood, which are caused by lack of sleep and result in greater levels of pain.
Still, just because we don’t yet know precisely why there’s such a strong link between poor sleep quality and spinal discomfort doesn’t mean we don’t know what we can do about it.
Top 5 Positions to Sleep With Lower Back Pain
Below, you’ll find the top four recommended ways to sleep for both acute and chronic back pain.
1. On Your Side With a Pillow
The best way to sleep with lower back pain is to lay on your side with your knees slightly bent, holding a pillow between them.
There’s a good reason why this tried-and-trusted method is often recommended as the best sleeping position for all kinds of conditions:
Holding the pillow this way helps to keep your spine, hips, and pelvis in proper alignment throughout the night. This ultimately relieves pressure in and around the lower back, allowing you to sleep more comfortably.
If you’re struggling to sleep with a painful hip flexor that also aggravates your back, you may also find that this position helps with that, too.
Though sleeping on the left-hand side usually has the most health benefits, sleeping on the same side all night every night can have unintended negative consequences for your health, such as muscle imbalance and even more pain.
As such, it’s best to switch sides every once in a while as long as you can find a comfortable way to rest.
2. In The Fetal Position
If you find that holding a pillow between your knees isn’t working out for you, the next best position to help with lower back pain is the fetal position.
To do this, simply roll over gently on your side and bring your knees gently towards your chest while you curl your body into a comfortable position around the knees.
If you’re suffering from a herniated disc, you may find this position particularly helpful as it helps to open up space that separates the vertebrae and ensures that your spine doesn’t bend as much.
3. On Your Back with a Pillow
Let’s be honest: Even though it might be good for us, sleeping on the side isn’t for everyone.
No matter how hard we try, some of us simply have a hard time getting some solid shuteye this way, especially if we’re also struggling with neck pain or other sore spots on the upper part of the body.
If this is the situation you’re currently facing, your best way of getting to sleep is to lie on your back with a pillow under your knees.
Placing the pillow so that your knees are slightly raised from the mattress helps maintain your spine’s natural curve.
It also helps to evenly distribute your weight across your body which places less strain on those lower-back pressure spots.
4. On Your Back, Reclined
If isthmic spondylolisthesis is the cause of your pain, sleeping in a reclining chair, or at least in a reclining position propped up on pillows, could prove to be the most effective way to sleep.
Isthmic spondylolisthesis is an unfortunate condition in which one vertebra slips over the one beneath it, causing strong pain in the lumbar region
Sleeping in a reclined position can help by positioning your body by opening up that space between the vertebrae, resulting in far less spinal pressure.
5. On Your Stomach With a Pillow
Sleeping on your stomach is rarely an ideal way to rest, as evidence shows that it can cause even more problems for the back, neck, and shoulders.
Still, if it’s the only way you’re able to turn it off at night, then at the very least, place a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvic region to take some of the pressure off your back.
To create the most comfortable position, you may even find it more comfortable to leave your usual head pillow to the side.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleeping With Lower Back Pain
What is the most comfortable position to sleep in for lower back pain?
The most comfortable sleeping position for lower back pain is usually on your side with a pillow tucked between your knees. However, any position that will help you to stay comfortable and maintain your spine’s natural alignment can be used.
Should you be lying down if you have lower back pain?
Bed rest isn’t recommended for lower back pain as too much time lying around can increase the pain level and lead to stiffness. Instead, it’s better to move around as often as is comfortable, as this will help you to heal quicker.
Can Your Mattress Cause Lower Back Pain?
Yes. A poor-quality mattress may not provide the support needed to maintain good posture and cause muscle strain, further adding to your pain level.
Adopting the Best Position to Sleep for Lower Back Pain: A Final Piece of Advice
Sleeping on your side with a pillow tucked between your knees may be the best position to adopt to get a good night’s sleep when you’re struggling with lower back pain, but it’s only one part of the solution to help you sleep solidly without waking up multiple times in the night.
Choosing a good, medium-firm mattress to provide proper spinal support can also play a big part in minimizing the sleep disruptions usually caused by a sore back.
To improve the quality of your sleep so that your back can properly heal and recover, be sure to limit -if not wholly cut out caffeine and alcohol intake as this can reduce sleep quality.
You may also want to try learning how to meditate in bed to help you relax once you’ve found that comfortable position.
Yet if none of that works, and your pain is only getting worse, it may well be time to see a doctor. After all, that nagging pain in the lumbar may signify something more serious than a bit of a sore back, and a trained medical professional can review your symptoms and recommend the best treatment solution for you. Finally, if you’ve enjoyed this article, but it’s the upper part of your body that you’re having trouble with, you may prefer to read our guide to the best sleep position for upper back pain.
International Association for the Study of Pain (2021), The Global Burden of Low Back Pain
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2022), Low Back Pain Fact Sheet
MedlinePlus (2022), Low Back Pain – Chronic
Global Health Group Data Exchange (accessed May 2022) – http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbd-results-tool
Finucane LM, Downie A, Mercer C, Greenhalgh SM, Boissonnault WG, Pool-Goudzwaard AL, Beneciuk JM, Leech RL, Selfe J. International Framework for Red Flags for Potential Serious Spinal Pathologies. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020 Jul;50(7):350-372. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2020.9971. Epub 2020 May 21. PMID: 32438853.
Marty, M., Rozenberg, S., Duplan, B. et al. Quality of sleep in patients with chronic low back pain: a case-control study. Eur Spine J 17, 839–844 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00586-008-0660-7
Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013 Dec;14(12):1539-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007. PMID: 24290442; PMCID: PMC4046588.
Colorado Comprehensive Spine Institute (accessed May 2022)- Explaining Spinal Disorders: Isthmic
Cary D, Briffa K, McKenna LIdentifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping reviewBMJ Open 2019;9:e027633. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-027633