Do you have neck or back pain? The position in which you sleep may have something to do with it. If you ever had a numb arm or sore neck when you woke up, you know the harmful effects of being in a bad position to sleep.
It’s all in alignment. Sleeping while keeping your spine in a neutral position reduces the strain on your back and neck. Sleeping on a firm surface also helps. Studies show that there is a correlation between pain and sleep. Slightly changing the way you sleep seems a logical approach to relieve your back pain. And the less your back hurt, the better you will sleep.
Back pain is an inconvenience for many people. Between 70% and 85% of people suffer from it to different degrees, during their lifetime. About 40% of these people see their daily activities disrupted, and about 10% have to stop their activities completely.
Symptoms of back pain:
Symptoms of back pain are common when you wake up. The first reflex consists of attributing the fault of the mattress. However, usually, the mattress or the posture of sleep, are only aggravating or triggers. Physiotherapists explain the possible causes of back pain upon waking and offer some prevention tips.
Leading causes of back pain upon waking:
Back pain can be associated with several factors. If back pain is present at night or upon waking, it can happen because of poor lying posture, firmness of the mattress, or other sleep-related things. However, in most cases and excluding accidents, it is bad lifestyle habits, and bad ways of moving that are the main causes of back pain.
For example, the following factors can cause pain on waking:
- Sedentary habits (lack of physical exercise)
- Maintenance of poor long-term posture
- Lack of flexibility
- Lack of mobility
- Loss of muscle tone
While the following examples may be aggravating (or triggering) factors:
- Use of an improper mattress
- Use of an improper pillow
- Adopting an inappropriate sleeping posture
Concerning the aggravating factors, it specifies that they vary from one person to another. While generally, physicians recommend buying a semi-firm mattress, some people will be more comfortable on a slightly softer or firmer mattress depending on their weight or condition.
It is, therefore, essential to try the different types of mattresses well when shopping to determine what is more comfortable according to our sleep habits.
Sleeping positions: Good and bad
Humans spend almost a third of their lives in a supine position. For a person living over 80, it represents approximately 250,000 hours. For people at risk, adopting good bed habits is essential for preventing back pain. So, which positions should one prefer for sleeping and which should avoid? Here is a review, from best to worst.
1. The ideal sleeping position: On your back
Sleeping flat on your back will be the best option. However, it is in this position that many people find it most difficult to sleep this way. For optimal alignment of the spine, place one pillow under your head or neck. However, if you are pregnant, avoid this position, as it decreases blood circulation to the heart and the baby.
Doctors suggest placing a pillow or a cushion under the knees to avoid over digging the lower back. Only place your head on the pillow. The size of the pillow should be enough to support the head well and keep the neck in a neutral position.
To find out if your pillow is your size, check if your forehead and chin are at the same height when your head is lying on the pillow.
2. Sleep on your side, on the second step of the podium:
Sleeping on your side while keeping your legs straight is the second-best position to avoid back and neck pain. It is also a good sleeping position if you snore or suffer from sleep apnea because the airways remain clear. If you can, stretch your legs and wedge a pillow between your knees to keep your spine in neutral alignment.
Some people like to sleep on their side with their legs folded up, but this position is not ideal for the back. The so-called fetal position is undoubtedly the most popular for sleeping, but it causes an uneven weight distribution, which can cause back pain and joint pain. To make this position comfortable, lift your chin slightly, and relax your knees. If you are pregnant, this comfortable position should relieve your back.
3. The worst position to sleep: On your stomach
The worst sleeping position for the spine is to sleep on your stomach. It is the position that puts the most pressure on the muscles and joints of the spine because it flattens its natural curvature. Sleeping on your stomach also means turning your head, which can cause pain in the neck and upper back.
A night lying on your stomach is enough to trigger an episode of low back pain in some people, while others will sleep well all their lives. The same goes for mattresses and pillows. Make sure that you listen to your body and not wait before making the necessary adjustments.
Materials can have an impact as well:
In addition to the sleeping positions, the material can have an impact. Here are some general tips:
- Choose the right mattress for you. Do not hesitate to try them in-store to find the one that suits you (medium-firm mattresses are preferable in most cases).
- Renew your mattress every ten years (maximum).
- Change your pillow every five years (maximum), both for reasons of hygiene and efficiency.
Some habits to adopt every day:
Many people spend almost two-thirds of their day in a sitting position, either at work, in the car, during meals or in front of the TV. Depending on the surface on which you are sitting or the support of your backrest, people not always ensure to keep their column in the neutral position, and certain fabrics can subject to constant tension too.
- To help you maintain a better sitting position, you can use a lumbar roller or a towel roll on the back of your chair that you place in the crook of your back, at the top of your buttocks.
- It is also advisable to get up every 30 minutes to stretch your back backward, to walk or to move (your back). This routine can last less than a minute and allows you to change the tension on your back and sit back in good posture regularly.
Here are some tips for people with a sedentary lifestyle:
- Do some physical activity in the evening, such as walking, swimming, or an exercise program to avoid spending more time sitting down.
- Use an ergonomic chair at work.
- Take a sitting position where your lower back is supported.
- A backrest with an angle of about 100 degrees is often recommended.
- Vary the position of the spine regularly.
Tips to relieve lower back pain while sleeping:
Here are some examples of bad and good sleep postures.
1. Learn to lie down and get up properly
You can easily injure yourself by getting up too suddenly in the morning. We must also learn to “roll” on the bed at bedtime.
To go to bed, start by sitting on the edge of the bed about where your lower back will position when you lie down. You must then tilt your torso on the bed while lifting your legs. Your back should stay straight during this maneuver.
If you are used to sleeping on your back, continue to roll, keeping your back straight until it presses against the mattress.
2. Sleep in a fatal position
You can relieve lower back pain by sleeping on your side with your thighs pulled towards your stomach. Place a large cushion between the legs for a more stable position and to avoid knee pain.
Bend both knees and bring them towards the torso to ensure better comfort. Avoid twisting the spine and place the large cushion both between your knees and your ankles. This cushion should also reduce muscle tension by making it easier to align your hips, pelvis, and spine.
If you normally sleep on your side, use a thicker cushion. Change sides often if you sleep on your side. Sleeping consistently on the same side generates muscle tension and pain.
A pregnant woman should sleep on her side rather than on her back. The position on the back restricts the flow of blood to the fetus, which can decrease the number of nutrients and oxygen supplied to it.
3. Place a plush cushion under your knees
If you prefer sleeping on your back, make sure to place a plush cushion under your knees. It will reduce the arch of the lumbar region by making your back flatter, which should begin to relieve your pain in just a few minutes.
If you sleep on your back and your side, you can use a support cushion to place between your knees or legs as you move from the position on your back to the one on your side.
You can also place a rolled-up towel on itself in the hollow of the lower back for better support.
4. Avoid sleeping on your stomach
If you experience lower back pain, do not sleep on your stomach! In this position, a large part of your body’s load is put on the lower part of the back. It can cause a twist in the spine, which is accompanied by an unpleasant sensation. If you cannot sleep in another position, continue to sleep as well, but by placing a cushion under your lower abdomen and your pelvis. Avoid using a pillow to support your head as it will create tension in the neck and back.
Sleeping on your stomach on a massage table can sometimes be beneficial for a person who suffers from a herniated disc in the lower back. You can apply this solution at home by leaving aside your usual pillow and replacing it with a flat and round travel cushion in the center of which you will place your face. It allows you to sleep on your stomach, keeping your head straight down and the entire spine in line to prevent twisting at the neck. You could also hold your hands together at the top of your face so that you can rest your forehead on it.
People at risk:
In general, people over 40 are more prone to back pain upon waking. This correlation is explained by the inactivity of people of this age group, the increased risk of symptoms caused by the loss of joint mobility, and the stiffening of the tissues associated with osteoarthritis.
However, a 65-year-old who is in very good physical condition may be less at risk than a 35-year-old who is less fit, less flexible, and has poor muscle tone. It makes it difficult to associate back pain with age, and that’s why it’s best to focus on lifestyle. Consequently, an active person with a healthy weight reduces his risk of suffering from back pain.