It’s estimated that 31 million Americans suffer from back pain at any given time.
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably one of them.
So, for starters, don’t worry! You’re not alone.
You, like the other people worldwide who suffer from some degree of back pain, know exactly how painful and debilitating it can be.
Even low-level back pain is a major nuisance. So what can you do to fix it?
Well, have you considered changing the way you sleep?
The position you fall asleep in can have a huge impact on your spinal health.
With that in mind, let’s explore the most common sleeping positions and how you can adjust them to alleviate back pain.
If you like to fall asleep on your side, you’re in good company—it’s the most popular sleeping position by a long shot.
And it’s for good reason, too—sleeping on your side is one of the best positions for your spine.
(There’s one important disclaimer. Sleeping on your side can be great for you, but only if your mattress provides adequate support. Side sleepers usually need a softer mattress, which can better conform to the curves and angles of a sideways body.)
There are two variations on side-sleeping that might be worth your while.
First, try the fetal position.
Lay on your back, then roll gently to one side.
Curl your knees in toward your chest. As you do, be sure not to curl your torso too far, or you risk making it harder to breathe.
The fetal position is an especially good option if you’re suffering from a herniated disc—it opens up the space between your vertebrae, giving the disc room to slip back into place.
The other recommended position for side-sleepers starts the same way: lay on your back, then roll to one side.
Now keep your torso straight, with your knees bent but not tucked up near your chest. It should feel pretty natural (and if it doesn’t, maybe this one isn’t the right fit!).
Here’s the key twist: you’ll also need to slip a pillow between your knees to keep your pelvis and spine in the proper alignment.
If you’re already a side-sleeper and these tricks aren’t working, I’d really recommend taking a second look at your mattress.
Like I mentioned earlier, a mattress has to be more plush to properly support sleeping on the side.
Side sleeping is a great option, but let me share one word of warning: take care not to sleep on the same side every night.
Keep it varied, and your body will thank you!
If you can’t bring yourself to sleep on one side, don’t worry—there are some great options for back sleepers too!
For lots of folks, back sleeping alone, with no modifications—just keeping your back flat against the mattress—is the best position for pain relief.
It naturally keeps your spine in alignment, so as long as your mattress isn’t too soft, you’re sleeping with all your vertebrae in just the right shape.
Sleeping flat can do so much good that you could even try sleeping without a pillow!
Keeping your whole body on the same surface just might do the trick—but if that sounds fishy, keep in mind that there’s a reason we sleep with pillows.
Especially on a firmer mattress, it’s better for your neck to have the slight elevation a thin pillow can provide.
The Pillow Tuck
Now, if you prefer sleeping on your back but your back disagrees, grab a spare pillow!
Tucking a pillow under your knees will get your lower back in the right place.
You can also try using a small, rolled-up towel in place of a pillow—or adding a pillow (or towel) right under the small of your back.
If you like sleeping on your front, my advice is pretty simple: don’t!
I’m serious, front-sleepers—this position is bad news.
It puts all your weight on your internal organs, curves your spine backward, and sticks a crick in your neck.
Also, sleeping on your front leaves your face right smack on the pillow, which can make breathing more difficult.
For the beauty-conscious among us, there’s even worse news: keeping your face pressed up into a pillow all night is known to cause premature wrinkles.
If you’re still determined to sleep on your front, you could try a pillow under your pelvis or lower stomach. It won’t help a ton, but it’ll at least get your spine into a better shape.
Using a softer pillow (under your head, this time!) may also reduce the crick-in-the-neck feeling you get when you wake up.
Conclusions About Back Pain
Changing your sleeping position to something a little more spine-friendly can do wonders for your back.
But, unfortunately, sometimes that won’t be enough.
If you’ve tried all the different sleeping positions you can handle and still can’t shake that twinge in your spine, it might be time to ask your doctor.
Back pain can come from a wide variety of sources—everything from stress to poor posture to overexertion.
That’s part of what makes it such a common ailment, and why sometimes the way you sleep won’t be able to make much of a difference.
A trained healthcare professional is always the best person to advise you, because they can give you individualized advice that’s specific to your body and your health.
Sometimes—and make sure to double-check with your doctor about this before making any purchases—the best solution is to find a new mattress.
If your mattress is more than eight years old, and definitely if it’s more than ten, it’s time to start shopping no matter what shape your back is in.
If it turns out that your current mattress isn’t giving you the support you need, here’s our guide to the best mattresses for chronic back pain.
I know a new mattress can be expensive, but if it would get rid of your back pain, it just might be worth it.
After all, you deserve a good night’s sleep.