Sleep Tips for a Bad Back

Are you struggling to get a good night's sleep because of your bad back? You may find that you:

  • Lie awake with pain at night
  • Toss and turn trying to find a comfortable sleeping position
  • Wake with the same aches everyday

Up to 40% of the population suffer from a bad back, and as a result, have difficulties trying to sleep.

A woman lying awake in bed because of her bad back
Follow our tips to get a soothing night's sleep for your bad back

In this guide, we will focus on three changes you can make to help you sleep with a bad back.

We will take a look at your:

  1. Mattress
  2. Pillow
  3. Sleeping position

As with all our guides, the information supplied should not be seen as a substitute for medical advice. Please seek professional guidance from your doctor if you need to.

Tips for a bad back: your mattress

Can a mattress cause back pain?

Yes, mattresses can cause back pain, but this could be for a variety of reasons. If your mattress is nearing the end of its life, it might not be able to support your body properly and may sag in places. This means that your spinal alignment might not even, which can put more strain on your back muscles and cause back pain.

The same is true if your mattress isn't best suited to your body shape and weight. If your mattress is too firm, your joints may become stiff and sore as they have nothing to sink into. If your mattress is too soft, this could also cause an unhealthy sleeping position and put unnecessary pressure on your back.

Ultimately, this means you should try to find the mattress that suits you best. Here are a few signs that suggest your mattress could be the cause of your back pain. If any of the following apply to your mattress, it's time for a new one.

  • Your mattress is more than 7 years old

Over the years, the materials in your mattress will deteriorate and will no longer offer the correct level of support for your back.

  • Your mattress dips or sags

Sleeping on a lumpy mattress is not only uncomfortable, it also contributes to incorrect body weight distribution across the surface of the mattress. This causes pressure point build-up and soreness.

  • Springs can be felt through other comfort layers

Feeling springs while you sleep is a sure sign that the mattress comfort layers have worn out and are no longer providing the support you need.

When it comes to back pain, it's vital that your mattress provides the right level of support for you, encourages a healthy sleeping posture and ensures correct spinal alignment.

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What mattress is best for a bad back?

Whilst many people find that a firm mattress supports a bad back, in reality, mattress firmness and comfort is a personal choice. For more information on firmness, visit our mattress firmness guide. Or, if you feel like your mattress is too soft or too firm, why not check out our guide on how to make your mattress firmer or softer?

Consider an orthopaedic mattress

Although there isn't one type of mattress to suit everyone's back pain, orthopaedic mattresses are specifically designed to support your spine and joints. This type of mattress provides a greater level of support to ensure that you adopt a healthy posture while you sleep.

You can read more about orthopaedic mattresses and the benefits they can provide on our orthopaedic mattresses advice page.

A man lying back in bed, happy and without a bad back thanks to the support of a comfortable orthopaedic mattress
An orthopaedic mattress offers optimal support to help you sleep with a bad back

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The Best Pillows for Back Pain

Your pillow can help to take some of the pressure off of your back while you sleep, which is why you need a pillow that's suited to how you sleep. To ensure your neck has the right support, make sure your pillows:

  • Are the correct depth for your sleeping position

Your sleeping position determines how deep your pillow should be to promote healthy spinal alignment. If you sleep on your front or back, a slimmer pillow may be best for you. If you sleep on your side, a deeper pillow will provide better support for you.

  • Contain high quality materials

Your pillow should offer a good amount of support and shouldn't lose its shape and feel after a short period of time. Ensure that your pillow meets your needs and takes pressure off of your neck and back.

  • Are changed regularly

If you notice that your pillows are losing their shape and firmness, remember to change them. This makes sure that you are fully supported throughout the night and won't contribute to your back pain.

To help relieve your back pain, we suggest using pillows with pressure-relieving qualities to keep your neck and back nice and healthy. Memory foam and latex pillows are great for this as they mould to the shape of your body and can give you tailored support exactly where you need it most.

If you'd like more information on how to choose the best pillow for you, take a look at our pillow buying guide. Or, if you'd like to know more about the best pillows for each sleeping position, check out our helpful advice.

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How to sleep with back pain: sleeping positions

Although it may seem comfortable, your sleeping position could actually be causing your back problems. All sleeping positions have the potential to increase back pain if held for too long. However, some positions can apply more pressure to your back than others.

It's natural to move in your sleep so it's important that you find a position that works for you. Whether you sleep on your side, back or front, we've outlined some small modifications that can make the way you sleep the best sleeping position for lower back pain.

Sleeping on your side

This is the most common position people adopt during sleep. Sleeping on your side helps keep your hips and spine aligned to alleviate pressure on your back. However, certain night time movements can cause this position to become a harmful one.

  • Top leg falling over your bottom leg

This is easily done and will cause your spine to rotate causing pain in your lower back.

  • Top shoulder drooping forward

This movement will also cause the spine to rotate creating aches and pains in your shoulders and back.

To prevent these movements and continue to enjoy sleeping on your side, follow these tips:

  1. Draw your legs towards your chest
  2. Place a pillow in between your knees
  3. Use a pillow for your head that keeps your nose parallel with the floor
  4. Switch sides during the night to help prevent muscle imbalance
A man sleeping on his side
Many people like to sleep on their side

Sleeping on your back

Is sleeping on your back bad?

This sleeping position is considered the best position for a bad back. As your body weight is distributed across your entire body, this helps prevent the buildup of pressure points. However, this position may still cause a bad back.

To achieve the optimum position to avoid lower back pain while sleeping on your back:

  1. Place a pillow under your knees to support the arch in your lower back
  2. Use a rolled-up towel under the curve of your back
  3. Choose a pillow that adequately fills the space between your neck and mattress
A man sleeping on his back
Sleeping on your back may be the most comfortable if you suffer with back pain

Sleeping on your front

This is the most common offender of back pain for two reasons:

  1. The natural curve in your spine is flattened
  2. Your neck is in a rotated position

These two issues can create a twist in your spine. If this position is the only way you can sleep at night, try placing a pillow under your pelvis to help maintain the natural curve in your spine. Only use a pillow for your head if it doesn't strain your neck or back. If it does, try to sleep without.

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What if these tips don't help with my bad back?

If these tips don't ease your back pain, it may be time to seek medical advice. Back pain can be caused by a variety of issues. Visit your GP who will be able to take a deeper look at the underlying causes of your back pain and offer further support.

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