If you are suffering with back pain, chances are that pain doesn’t stop when you go to bed at night. There is a vicious cycle of back pain and sleep problems that contribute to each other. It is likely to become a problem to sleep well when your back hurts. And sometimes your back hurts even more because you can’t get proper sleep. Here are some simple steps you can take to get a better night’s rest, even when suffering from back pain.
Many people with lower back pain feel worse when they are lying down, and they dread the thought of another night with more back pain and less sleep. If you have back pain only when you are lying down, or if you regularly awake in the morning with a stiff and painful back (same with sciatic sensations in the hip, leg, foot) that was not painful the night before, one of two things is probably wrong.
Either there is something wrong with the surface on which you are lying, or there is something wrong with the position in which you sleep.
It is a comparatively easy task to correct the surface on which you are lying, but it is rather difficult to influence the position you adopt while sleeping. Once you are asleep, you may frequently change your position or “toss and turn”. Unless a certain position causes so much discomfort that it wakes you up, you will have no idea of the various positions you assume while sleeping.
(Many people with back problems are told to never lay face down while in bed. This can indeed make it difficult to recover from an injury to the neck, but there is no evidence to suggest that this is harmful to the back. On the contrary, it may well be that your back will stop being painful if you sleep in the facedown position – Slava M, Pain & Posture Clinic ).
N.B. If you have sciatica, lying face down is nearly always impossible. But for many low back pain sufferers, lying face down will bring relief.
Make Sure Your Back is Well Supported While in Bed
Does your mattress show signs of wear? Do you often wake up with back pain? Is your mornings are when your back feeling the ‘stiffest’? Do you sleep better on a hotel mattress? The Better Sleep Council maintains that for optimal comfort and support you may need to change your sleeping mattress every 5 to 7 years. In a Journal of Applied Ergonomics study, nearly 63% reported significant improvements in back pain after switching to a new sleep system.
If your budget allows for buying a new mattress, ensure to “test drive” a few options before buying a new mattress. When in the store don’t hesitate to take off your shoes, lie down in your favourite sleeping position, and spend few minutes resting. Make sure the mattress supports you well enough to maintain your spine in the position you have with good standing posture. A firm or medium-firm mattress is usually best.
- Ensure that your mattress does not sag. The mattress itself should not be too hard. In fact the soft mattress can be extremely comfortable, provided it is placed on a firm support. To experiment place your mattress on the floor. Spend three to four nights sleeping with the mattress supported in this way; this will allow determining if poor support for your mattress is the source of your back pain.
- Avoid a bed with a wire base: this is a base or frame with wires stretched across it and adjusted with bolts.
- The mattress: may be either of the most common types: inner-spring, or foam rubber.
Also Try This for Better Sleep
If buying a new bed is not an option right now, try adding plywood supports between the mattress and its base. Or as a temporary solution, have someone move your mattress onto the floor. Put a pillow under your knees when lying on your back and between your knees when lying on your side.
To help maintain the curve in your back while sleeping, try a rolled-up towel, wrapped around your waist and tied in front (“McKenzie Sleeping Roll” worked well for some of our clients – definitely worth a try! Slava M, Pain & Posture Clinic ).
Get In and Out of Bed Safely
When getting in and out of bed, never jerk yourself up from a lying position.
To get into bed, sit on the side of the bed. Supporting yourself with your hands, bend your knees, and lie down onto your side.
To get out of bed, roll onto your side, bend both knees, and push yourself up with your hands, while swinging your legs over the side of the bed. Avoid bending forward or twisting at the waist, which can put strain on your back.
Medication for Back Pain
If needed, medication can help relieve pain allowing you to sleep better. These may include pain killers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and topical treatments. Short-term use of sleep medications may also help some people with sleep problems.
General Tips for Improving Sleeping Patterns
- Although rest may help on initial stages, try not to continuously stay in bed any longer than a day or two after an injury. During the periods of inactivity the injured areas tend to ‘stiffen’ restricting the circulation to the injured site. This may make matters worse and pain may intensify.
- If your pain is bad and you need to lie down to get comfortable, be sure to make a determined effort to get up every couple of hours and move. This can relieve stiffness and pain, which will help you sleep better at night.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the evening to help with sleep quality. Sweets in the hours prior to sleep, especially chocolate – may negatively affect your sleeping pattern. Choose your TV programmes before sleep carefully, some of them may put you in the ‘arousal’ state and keep you there for few hours affecting the quality of your sleep drastically.
- Don’t overeat, especially before bed. Do not eat a large meal before going to sleep – this can interfere with sleep and cause digestive problems.
- Try relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing.
- If your back hurts worse at night — no matter how you try to sleep – consult with your doctor to rule out the possibility of a more serious problem.