The Best Sleeping Positions for Back Pain Relief

Back pain can significantly impact your quality of life, and one crucial factor often overlooked is your sleeping position. People spend an average of 26 years sleeping. That’s a lot of time to spend unmoving in one or two positions. It should be no surprise that the way you sleep can either alleviate or exacerbate back pain. This makes it vital to understand which positions are best for maintaining a healthy spine.

The Illinois Back Institute will delve into the causes of chronic back pain, explore the impact of different sleeping positions, and offer practical tips for improving sleep quality and reducing back pain.

Common Causes of Chronic Back Pain

Understanding the root causes of chronic back pain is the first step toward finding effective relief and a sleeping position that will work for you. Here are some of the most common culprits:

Herniated Discs

A herniated disc occurs when the soft center of a spinal disc pushes through a crack in the tougher exterior casing. This can irritate nearby nerves and cause pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg.

Bulging or Ruptured Discs

Similar to herniated discs, bulging or ruptured discs involve the extension of the disc beyond its normal boundary. While these conditions might not always cause symptoms, when they do, the pain can be debilitating.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through your spine. This condition commonly causes pain, numbness, and muscle weakness across your back.


Sciatica is characterized by pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. It typically occurs when a herniated disc or bone spur compresses part of the nerve.

Degenerated Discs

As we age, our spinal discs lose moisture and flexibility. This wear and tear leads to conditions like degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease can cause pain and, in severe cases, may require medical intervention.

How Sleeping Positions Impact Back Pain

The way you position your body when you sleep can significantly affect the health of your back. Let’s examine how different sleeping positions affect chronic back pain and determine which is the best for you.

Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is generally considered the best position for spinal health. It allows your head, neck, and spine to rest in a neutral position. This reduces unnecessary pressure on anyone in one part of your back and prevents overall pain.

  1. Benefits: Promotes spinal alignment, reduces pressure on your discs, and minimizes the risk of developing wrinkles.
  2. Drawbacks: Not ideal for those with sleep apnea or snoring issues. It can exacerbate them in some instances.
  3. Tips: Use a supportive pillow under your knees to maintain the natural curve of your lower spine.

Sleeping on Your Side

Side sleeping is another excellent option, especially for those with lower back pain. It can help relieve pressure on the spine and reduce the likelihood of snoring.

  1. Benefits: Reduces pressure on the spine, helps with snoring and sleep apnea, and is beneficial during pregnancy.
  2. Drawbacks: This can lead to shoulder stiffness and jaw discomfort if the head is not properly supported.
  3. Tips: Place a pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned and reduce strain on your lower back.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach is generally regarded as the worst position for back pain.  It can strain your neck and spine, leading to discomfort and exacerbating existing issues. If you can only sleep on your stomach to sleep comfortably, don’t keep yourself from sleeping in an attempt to sleep ‘correctly.’ There are tips to relieve pain without sacrificing your ability to sleep.

  1. Benefits: May reduce snoring, but benefits are limited. You should sleep on your stomach if it’s the only way you can fall asleep.
  2. Drawbacks: Puts pressure on the spine, leads to misalignment, and can cause neck pain.
  3. Tips: If you must sleep on your stomach, use a thin pillow or no pillow to minimize neck strain. This way, your spine is not at an angle, decreasing misalignment of your spine.

Practical Tips for Better Sleep and Reduced Back Pain

Improving your sleep environment and habits can make a significant difference in alleviating back pain. Here are some practical tips to get you started:

Choosing the Right Mattress

A good mattress is crucial for spinal health. Look for one that provides adequate support and aligns with your preferred sleeping position. Always consider these two factors when picking a mattress:

  1. Firmness: Choose a mattress that is neither too soft nor too firm. It should support the natural curves of your spine.
  2. Material: Memory foam and latex mattresses are popular choices for their supportive and contouring properties.

Selecting the Perfect Pillow

A supportive pillow can make a world of difference in maintaining proper spinal alignment.

  1. Back Sleepers: Opt for a thinner pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck.
  2. Side Sleepers: Choose a firm pillow that fills the space between your ear and shoulder.
  3. Stomach Sleepers: Use a thin pillow or consider sleeping without one to reduce neck strain.

Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits

Developing good sleeping habits is essential for quality rest and back health.

  1. Consistency: Stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. The idea of ‘catching up’ on sleep isn’t as beneficial as one may think. It’s only temporary relief.
  2. Environment: Create a calm, dark, and cool sleeping environment.
  3. Routine: Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine, such as reading or taking a warm bath.

Prioritize a Healthier Back When You Sleep With Illinois Back Institute’s Help

Your sleeping position plays a pivotal role in maintaining spinal health and alleviating back pain. By understanding the impact of different positions and making informed choices about your sleep environment, you can enjoy better sleep and a healthier back.

Consider non-surgical treatment options like Functional Disc Stabilization™ and physical therapy to complement your efforts and achieve lasting relief. Illinois Back Institute offers expert guidance and cutting-edge treatments designed to enhance your quality of life. For more information, contact us today.