You’ve had a wonderfully productive day at work. You spent time with the family after you got home; watched part of the game, and you even took the dog for a nice long walk. The dishes are done, the kids are in bed, and finally you get to settle down for the night. You climb into bed to drift off to dreamland and… your lower back won’t stop screaming at you.
Unfortunately, low back pain is relatively common in the United States for a variety of reasons. Whether due to muscle tension from a strain or pull, a slipped disc, chronic back pain, back aches, or spinal compression, sleeping with lower back pain is no joke. When it starts to interfere with your rest patterns, it’s time to do something.
Sleep not only affects the quality of your night, but the quality of the next day, the following week, and all of the people around you. Figuring out coping strategies to deal with the pain and ultimately to relieve it is critical to being able to function.
Movements of the Spine
How do you lay in bed at night; what’s your favorite sleeping position? Do you have a particular corner of the bed or orientation of your body? Consider paying special attention to lining up ears, shoulders, and hips to ensure that spine is in general alignment to help relieve lower back pain while sleeping.
Maybe you even take inventory of whether your tailbone is lifted so that your abdomen sticks out, or whether it’s tucked so that your shoulders round. The spine is made of vertebrae that allow six different kinds of movement in the spine.
The first is rotation; this is twisting, the same motion as wringing out a washcloth. The second is lateral motion. This is from side to side, like you’re waving with your whole body. The last is extension and flexion. Leaning forward to take a bow is flexion, while leaning back to fit under a limbo bar is extension.
The six movements of the spine make it a very specialized piece of anatomy. This also means that there are a variety of ways to get comfy at night.
Lay on your side with a pillow between your knees. Hips are stacked one on top of the other so that legs are even and your top leg isn’t falling over your bottom leg. This ensures the spine is in a neutral position. You may even like to use a body pillow for the extra length and support here.
Lay on your back with a pillow under your knees, and perhaps a smaller pillow under your sacrum, if that’s comfortable. This will allow your low back to rest comfortably on added support rather than being positioned up in the air.
Lay on your side in a curled-up fetal position, especially if you’re having problems with compression. The rounding of the spine allows more space between vertebrae, which means discs are less likely to be cramped and signal pain receptors to fire.
Lay on your stomach with a pillow underneath your abdomen and maybe, if it feels good, a pillow under your head. You may also choose to forego the pillow under your head in order to let your neck rest at a more natural angle. Again, this adds (hypespace between vertebrae.
Lay reclined with your back elevated so that your legs and spine create an angle. This reduces pressure on the spine because legs are not stacked directly underneath.
This video explains more about laying in different soothing positions and the rationale behind each. You can use it to explore each position more fully through an auditory and visual experience.
Pay special attention to stacking ears, shoulders, hips, and even ankles, if that’s comfortable. Do this during the day as well as at night. Standing in the grocery store waiting to check out? Do an alignment check and pay special attention to the angle of your tailbone. It should be neutral; halfway between tucked and lifted.
The energy you focus on this exercise during the day will acclimate your body to alignment and will help reduce back pain over time while you’re sleeping.
Get into a routine before bedtime. Maybe you retire all of your screens thirty minutes before you try to sleep. Maybe you elect to try meditating or visualization exercises to let yourself get in tune with your body as opposed to being focused on your thoughts. Maybe you try different kinds of tea every night or listen to slow, soothing music.
Whatever practice you adopt, be consistent about it. Eventually, this will be your body’s cue to start winding down in the evening and will make it easier to shift into sleeping mode. Bodies are creatures of habit.
Truly, sleeping with lower back pain is no joke. Understanding how the spine moves, experimenting with different sleeping positions, practicing good alignment during the day, and creating your own pre-bedtime routine are all ways to cope with and hopefully eliminate low back pain.
Your quality of sleep, quality of life, and quality of relationships will all improve with uninterrupted, peaceful rest.