Sleep provides important healing and rejuvenation to your back. When you’re suffering from back pain, it can be difficult to get a solid and healthy good night’s sleep. Lying down can be painful, and sleep simply doesn’t come. One of the many unpleasant symptoms of inadequate rest is being even more sensitive to pain. So it’s essential to take the smart steps necessary to improve your ability to sleep.
It may seem to be an impossible goal, but there are ways to improve your sleep quality while dealing with back pain:
- Get a new mattress. A soft, old mattress that sags and provides inadequate lumbar support may be the culprit causing your back pain. When you sleep with your back arched on a mattress with the slope downward right at your hip level, you’re creating a terrible arch in your spine that can compress nerves and even cause disc damage. Upgrading to a top-quality new, medium-firm mattress that has no sag or slope and can cradle your body in a more natural and healthy position. Yes, a quality mattress is often pricy, but it’s worth the investment to improve your back pain. Add in a posture-correcting orthopedic-approved pillow for your neck and head. It will properly position your spine for better sleep and potentially less pain.
- Sleep in a back-supporting position. One preferred position is lying flat on your back, and placing one or two pillows beneath your knees so that your spine is in a neutral, non-arched position while you sleep. If you prefer to sleep on your side, place one pillow between your slightly-bent knees while you lie on your side, and place another pillow against your chest, with your arm draped over it. This second pillow position prevents you from twisting your upper body and keeps your spine in neutral alignment as you sleep. Don’t sleep on your stomach, since this position arches your back and aggravates the spine, nerves and muscles affected in your back pain condition. Some frequent stomach-sleepers place a tennis ball in their pajama front pocket to prevent them from rolling over onto their stomachs during the night.
- Reduce stress. Stress is a cause of chronic back pain, so focus on eliminating the sources of your stresses through meditation or deep breathing methods, journaling, limiting exposure to stressful people, lightening your load of life obligations such as running committees and other stressful jobs, or even getting short-term psychotherapy to deal with larger stressful issues in your life.
- Limit or eliminate caffeine. You might be more sensitive to caffeine than you realize, and even moderate use can affect your sleep quality.
- Don’t eat before bedtime. Limiting your snacking can help prevent nighttime indigestion or acid reflux, and it can also help keep your weight at a healthy level, which is better for your back.
- Talk to your doctor about nighttime pain medications that can help you sleep. Your physician will assess your best pain medication regimen, which might include muscle relaxants, over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, Tylenol (acetaminophen), or Advil or Motrin IB (ibuprofen) which can be effective for short-term use and might be available in a ‘PM’ formula that can help you sleep. Naproxen sodium (Aleve) is long-lasting and may offer pain relief throughout the night. Use these medications only as directed and with a doctor’s care.
- Talk to your doctor about gentle exercises. Always consult with your doctor about recommended back pain-calming exercises. Never look online for ‘back pain exercises’ to do on your own, since your back might not be strong enough at this time for some exercises like planks or resistance band work. Your doctor will start you off slowly with a few exercises that can calm your back pain before bed, and then work with you to progress your back-improving movements over time.
- Practice a good bedtime routine. Turn off the television and computer, dim the lights in your room to ready your body for sleep, cool your bedroom with a fan to help you sleep better, and avoid reading or working in bed before sleep. Winding down can prepare your mind, as well as your body, for a deep, restful sleep that lets your body heal better, and after a good eight hours of healthy sleep can make your pain levels easier to tolerate in the daytime.