Sleeping Through the Pain: Strategies for Back Pain Sufferers

According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people who suffer from chronic back pain are unable to get a good night’s sleep. That’s a vicious circle, because sleep is absolutely crucial for good overall health and makes it easier to cope with common, day-to-day frustrations and interact with others without becoming impatient. If you’re dealing with chronic back pain, the last thing you need is to feel tired and agitated during the day. Back pain or no back pain, you have to find some way to get a full night of restful, restorative sleep. Here are a few strategies that may prove helpful.


You may not be aware that some foods are effective at alleviating bodily pain. Vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, citrus fruits such as mango and pineapple, and ginger have properties that can minimize joint pain and mitigate some of the back pain you’re experiencing.

Take the Pressure Off

Poor sleep habits often contribute to back pain by increasing pressure. You need to find a position that allows you to lay in bed with minimal back pressure. That can mean changing to a new sleep position, like sleeping on your side instead of on your stomach. You could also try sleeping with a body pillow (at least 5 feet long) placed between your legs and against your waist and trunk. This keeps your spinal column in alignment with the rest of your body and takes undue pressure off your back.

If you must sleep on your stomach, try sleeping with a pillow under your pelvic area, which relieves the stress that stomach sleeping places on the space between your discs. In general, sleeping on your back is better for your pain, especially if you sleep with a pillow positioned underneath your knees. This keeps your weight evenly distributed and maintains the slight curve in your lower back, so there’s less strain on your pain pressure points.

Revisit your bed pillow

People often use their bed pillow improperly, which can cause neck and back pain. Remember that a pillow is there to support your neck, not your shoulders, which should always be on the bed (not your pillow). Avoid overly-bulky foam pillows that hold your head at an uncomfortable angle. This is especially important if you’re a stomach sleeper. Finding the right pillow, one that’s flat rather than bulky, can make a tremendous difference in controlling back and neck pain.

Assess your mattress

Your mattress is perhaps the most important factor in your sleep comfort and quality. A supportive mattress, one that’s not too hard or soft, does a better job of supporting your back during the night. If yours is 5 years old, it may be time to invest in a new one. Mattresses change over time, become uneven and lumpy, and may be responsible for the back pain you’re experiencing. Check out different mattresses, and try them out before buying – lay down on them as you would while sleeping, and make sure it’s right for your particular sleeping style.

Create a sleep-conducive environment

If you’re tossing and turning at night, chances are your back pain will increase, so make sure yours is a sleep space that’s conducive to healthy, restful sleep. Make sure it’s dark – no light should get through, and turn off all TV, computer and handheld screens before bedtime. Maintain a constant temperature of no more than 70 degrees Fahrenheit to keep your body temperature from getting too high, and consider using an app (i.e. a white noise app on your smartphone) or device to mask any external noise that could be disruptive.

Sleep affects every aspect of your health and is especially important if you’re coping with a chronic health issue, like back pain. A good 7 to 9 hours of sleep helps the body heal by repairing and restoring cellular health, strengthening the immune system and moderating your metabolism. Good sleep makes you feel better in general, an important point for someone suffering with back pain.

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