How to Protect Your Back While You Sleep

Rachel Rumbelow | 06.02.19 | 6 Comments

You’re not alone if the feeling of waking up with back pain sounds familiar. It’s a debilitating pain that some 80% of us will suffer from at one or more points in our lives, according to the American Chiropractic Association. But what can be done? Actually, several things! Even better, these changes can literally be made overnight with the proper back support while sleeping. Keep reading to find out some ideas for how to protect your back while you sleep.

It should be noted that the following tips and articles are solely recommendations and should not be considered as professional advice.

When it comes down to it, everything matters if you want to protect your back while you sleep. Every aspect of your sleeping patterns, behaviors, and environment (including sleep temperature) combine to have either a positive or negative effect on your back. So why don’t we hear more about this? Usually, it’s because we are traditionally focused on the activities we do while being awake to prevent back pain.

If you think about it, we often get the same advice from medical professionals for managing back pain:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Stretch
  • Good posture and use ergonomic chairs in the office
  • Engage in proper alignment when lifting heavy objects or weights

While a lot of this information may be useful if you want to improve your overall health, it still doesn’t necessarily provide a solution to supporting your back while you sleep. Pay attention to this often-overlooked source of back pain and discuss with your doctor whether you should incorporate the following tips to protect your back while you sleep.

Healthy Sleeping Positions

People have long asked the question, “what is the best position to sleep in?” Your sleep posture, or the position you sleep in, can sometimes be a key source of back pain. The following tips were found through online research on the subject.

Sleeping on Your Back (Gold Star)

The most recommended sleep position to help alleviate lower back pain is sleeping on your back (according to Johns Hopkins). Not only does it help with back pain but (bonus) it can also prevent wrinkles as you won’t be smooshing your face against the pillow.

Some people find it difficult to sleep on their back. If this is the case with you, there are ways to train yourself. Doing some light stretching that focuses on your hips can do wonders for any pain or stiffness you might have if you’re not used to lying on your back.

Putting a pillow under your knees can also help. Not only does it better align your hips and spine, but it also creates an obstacle for you to change positions while you sleep. You won’t be perfectly trained overnight, but it is something that can happen with continuous attempts.

If you have insomnia or sleep apnea, be careful because this position might not work for you. It’s recommended to make an appointment with your doctor to see what you can do to incorporate a better sleeping position.

protect your back while you sleep

Side Sleeping (Runner Up)

If lying on your back is too difficult or makes it hard to manage sleep apnea, side sleeping is the next best position to help with back pain. Sleeping on your side allows you to maintain your body’s proper alignment as long as you have the right conditions.

There is a right way and a wrong way to approach to side sleeping. Proper positioning is key to achieve adequate back support while sleeping.

Make sure your head and knees are aligned just right to keep your spine in a natural line. A pillow between the knees keeps your hips in an optimal position and reduces stress on the hips in general. If you need more help, a rolled-up towel or small pillow under your waist can assist.

prevent back pain

Stomach Down (Avoid If You Can)

Sometimes that feeling of lying flat on the stomach and feeling a stretch on the back calls to us. But don’t listen to that siren song. It’s a trap.

Lying on your stomach might feel good at first but you risk putting your back into a strained position for long periods. That can have disastrous effects if you want to alleviate back pain. The natural curve of your spine is disrupted and flattened when you’re on your stomach.

If you insist on staying in this position, at least do a couple of things to help back pain at night while sleeping. Use a small pillow or a rolled-up towel under your stomach to adjust the spine and stop it from being flattened (American Chiropractic Association).

Use a flat pillow or, better yet, no pillow at all. Because everything is being flattened, you want to avoid your head from being elevated as much as possible. However, the best thing to do would be to avoid this position entirely.

mattress with back support

Mattresses With Back Support

Your mattress could be a major pain in your back. It is often recommended that you change your mattress every 10 years or so; however, this is outdated advice. The main determining factor on when to replace your mattress is whether or not it is still working for you. If you are waking up stiff or experiencing nocturnal back pain, this is not a sign that you have a healthy mattress.

<< Click here to check out our Ultimate Mattress Buying Guide >>

Another problem is that many people think that soft mattresses are the way to go. You sink into them and they feel comfortable, like you’re on a cloud. Just like stomach sleeping, this might be good for a minute or two but it is not a good idea for the long term.

Soft mattresses do not offer most people support as they don’t align your body properly. They simply don’t provide sufficient back support while sleeping. According to WebMD, medium-firm to firm mattresses are usually the way to go. You need a mattress with back support to protect your back and help with back pain.

Our mattress comparison is a great start in finding the perfect mattress for your personal needs.

mattress with back support

Lumbar Support

Chiropractor Jason Queiros has noted on Saatva’s sleep blog that finding a mattress with lumbar support can help with getting your body into proper alignment while you sleep. One of our top-rated mattresses, Saatva, has a great flagship Classic Innerspring mattress.

The Innerspring offers a medium firmness with a combination of spring coils and a layer of memory foam. They offer a 120-night free trial, which gives you plenty of time to feel the benefits.

A Perfect Pillow

The University of Rochester Medical Center stresses how important a good pillow — or several — can be. As a pillow is smaller with less foundation than a mattress, it should be replaced every year or so.

A good pillow won’t raise your neck too high. You should find a pillow that lets your head rest naturally and allows for the natural curve of the spine. Proper alignment between the neck, shoulders, and spine is important, according to experts at WebMD.

Your pillow should be versatile enough that it aligns your neck with your spine in any position. Nectar has a great memory foam pillow with ventilation and cooling fabric. With a 30-day free trial, it’s a small risk for the chance at big rewards.

Final Thoughts

Healthy sleeping positions and a good quality mattress are important ways to achieve back support while sleeping. They can both be important aspects of keeping your spine and hips aligned. Add a good pillow and you are on your way to a more comfortable sleep.

It might seem like a lot goes into how to protect your back while you sleep. However, if you think about how long we sleep every night, it makes sense to invest the time, money, and effort into improving your sleeping habits.

Rachel Rumbelow
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Rachel is a freelance writer and young widow who understands life is short and refuses to take it for granted. Using this attitude, she's taken the world by storm and is excited to share her knowledge and expertise.

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Questions & Answers

Torrey Strickland
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Torrey Strickland

Please What would be the Best Investment With a Limited Income For THE Most Affordable Adjustable Med Firm Mattress For Severe Chronic Back Pain & a Mainly Bedridden Existence?

Rachel Rumbelow
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Rachel Rumbelow

You may want to look into the Saatva mattress since it is very customizable. You can choose the level of firmness (it sounds like you prefer firm or luxury firm) and the mattress height, which can make it easier for you to get into and out of bed. Additionally, you can add an adjustable base. Saatva offers reasonable prices for a luxury mattress and you can also choose to pay in multiple payments rather than all at once.

You can learn more in our review: https://top5-mattresses.com/reviews/saatva/.

Vicky Sprouse
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Vicky Sprouse

I would really like to get a Latex mattress. What do you consider the best? Thank you for your help.

Rachel Rumblerow
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Rachel Rumblerow

If you’re looking for a latex mattress, consider checking out our reviews of Awara (https://top5-mattresses.com/reviews/awara/), Zenhaven (https://top5-mattresses.com/reviews/zenhaven/), and Happsy (https://top5-mattresses.com/reviews/happsy/).

Ivy Standridge
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Ivy Standridge

Do any of these online queen mattresses come in a Queen short?

Rachel Rumblerow
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Rachel Rumblerow

PlushBeds offers mattresses in a Queen Short size (https://top5-mattresses.com/reviews/plushbeds/). Read our review, and then when you access their site, check their RV mattresses category to see the Queen Short mattresses which are available.

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