Summit spine specialist Catherine Choi, M.D., explains the right way to sleep if you struggle with back or neck pain.
If you have back or neck pain, you’re probably no stranger to the misery of waking up stiff and sore after a night in bed. But there is good news: there are some simple steps you can take to help reduce back pain while you sleep, so you wake up refreshed and ready for the day.
Tip 1: pay attention to your mattress type
“People have different preferences for firmness, but most people choose medium firmness, which allows for comfortable side, back, and stomach sleeping,” Dr. Choi said.
However, if you always sleep on your side, Dr. Choi recommends that you try a softer mattress. A softer mattress will reduce pressure on the hip bone, particularly for people with a slender build.
On the other side of the spectrum, if you are solely a back sleeper, you might prefer a firm mattress. “Some of my patients even put a board underneath their mattresses to make it super firm,” Dr. Choi said. A firmer mattress can provide extra support to back sleepers.
Tip 2: replace your mattress if needed
If your mattress is more than 10 years old, it’s probably time to replace it. “The springs can lose bounce over time, making the mattress less supportive and more likely to put pressure on your back,” Dr. Choi said.
Tip 3: reduce back pain while you sleep by using pillows strategically
Most people have a preferred sleeping position, but it’s worth experimenting to find the position that is most comfortable for you. “Sleeping on the side or back is okay, but sleeping on your stomach is more likely to cause back pain or make it worse,” Dr. Choi said.
That’s because sleeping on the stomach may cause you to hyperextend your back, putting pressure on your spine’s facet joints. “Putting a pillow under your belly can round out your back a little and avoid hyperextension,” Dr. Choi said.
For side sleepers, putting a pillow in between your knees can help align your hips and pelvis, taking pressure off the back. For back sleepers, a pillow under your knees can help take pressure off the pelvis, increasing comfort.
Tip 4: try a foam pillow
“If you have neck pain and stiffness, I often recommend a foam pillow (Tempur-Pedic or similar),” Dr. Choi said. “Foam pillows keep your neck in a neutral shape, whether you’re on your side or on your back.”
If your pillow is too soft, you may be hyperextending your neck. Conversely, if your pillow is too firm, or if you’re sleeping on a stack of several pillows, you’ll be in the opposite position (called “flexion”). Both of these can be painful.
A foam pillow keeps your neck in neutral alignment. Dr. Choi advises her patients that it can take a week or so for you to adjust to a foam pillow — but soon, you may wonder what you did without it.
Tip 5: reduce back pain while you skeep with good “sleep hygiene”
To make sure you have a restful night of sleep, follow good “sleep hygiene” practices. That means turning off electronic devices 30 minutes before bed, dimming the lights, and doing things that slow your mind so that you can wind down for sleep.
Also, take a look at your bedroom and try to create a quiet, peaceful environment, with cool air, darkness, and white noise, if needed. Getting relaxed before bed is another way to decrease tension everywhere in your body — including your back and neck.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
More resources for you
- Review more information about selecting the right mattress