Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Lori Geurin
Chronic back pain is hard enough to deal with when you’re getting adequate sleep. Unfortunately, most of us don’t get the recommended amount of sleep— even without chronic pain. Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your mood, health, concentration, and even everyday activities like driving or getting ready for work. Plus, your body needs sleep to heal properly.
According to one study, people with chronic pain were 18 times more likely to experience insomnia than those without. If chronic back pain is causing you to lose sleep, it can create a domino effect that’s hard to stop. Fortunately, we’ve got some tips on how to sleep better with chronic pain.
Why Sleeping Is Hard With Chronic Back Pain
According to the CDC, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. If you’re not getting enough, it could be affecting your mood and health. But it’s not just any sleep, you need quality sleep that’s not interrupted multiple times per night. Unfortunately, for those with chronic back pain, quality sleep is no more than a dream.
During the day many people distract their minds from their chronic back pain with activities, reading, television, conversation, or work. When the mind is focusing on other things, it’s sometimes possible to turn that chronic pain into a dull ache at that back of your mind. When you’re getting ready for bed, it’s a different story.
Getting your mind ready for sleep is the same thing that gets your mind focused on your chronic back pain. When all is quiet, dark, and calm, your mind has nothing to distract it from thinking about your pain. Thinking about pain doesn’t necessarily make it worse, but it makes it more apparent. So what can you do about this? Read on to find out.
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How To Sleep Better With Chronic Back Pain
Distract Yourself to Sleep
It is possible to distract yourself to sleep. Many people use noisemakers that project calming white noise for your mind to focus on. There are plenty of apps available for your phone that do this. Or you can buy a small machine that’s sole purpose is generating white noise. Most of them come pre-programmed with jungle sounds, rain, storm, ocean waves, and other sounds that can help you fall asleep.
ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, has also become popular. The most popular types of ASMR involve recordings of a performer whispering or playing with objects to cause relaxing sensations in the listener. Many people find ASMR a great way to relax, feel content, and fall asleep quickly.
However, some distractions aren’t enough to pull your mind away from your pain. So it’s a good idea to make sure you’re sleeping in the right position for your chronic back pain.
Best Sleeping Positions for Chronic Back Pain
Depending on where your pain lives, you may be able to find a different sleeping position that will allow you to experience less pain and more sleep.
1. Back Sleeping
For spinal support sleeping on your back is the way to go. But, your whole back should be in contact with your mattress. If an area, like your lower back, is not supported in this way, it can cause issues. You can always slip a small pillow or a folded towel under your back for full support. Plus, there are some back-sleeping options to consider.
- With Your Legs Up – Some people with chronic back pain find that putting a pillow under their knees helps with the pain. Slightly raising your legs in this manner helps to keep the natural curvature of the spine. Just remember to have a pillow for your head and neck, too.
- In a Reclined Position – If sleeping in a reclined position helps your chronic back pain, it may be worth investing in an adjustable bed. Sleeping in a chair is an option, too, as long as your weight is somewhat evenly distributed.
2. Stomach Sleeping
You’re not advised to sleep on your stomach as it pulls the spine out of alignment. However, if it’s the only way you can get a decent night’s sleep, it may be your best option. Try these stomach-sleeping techniques:
- With a Pillow Under You – If you must sleep on your stomach, try putting a pillow under your stomach and hips. This will help keep the spine in its natural alignment. Usually, a thin pillow is best for this purpose.
- With Your Head Down And a Pillow Under You – Stomach sleeping can be bad for the neck because you have to twist your head to breathe comfortably. But, if you place a firm pillow under your forehead, you can keep your spine straight and breathe while you sleep.
3. Sleeping on Your Side
Sleeping on the side, as many people do, can also put undue stress on the spine. There’s a simple fix for this that you may already know.
- With a Pillow Between Your Legs – Putting a pillow between your knees can raise your hips up and keep your spine in alignment, allowing you to sleep comfortably without additional pain.
- In the Fetal Position – Sometimes the fetal position is the most comfortable, pain-free position there is. Pulling your knees up to your chest can take the pressure off your low back and relieve disc pain while you sleep.
Home Remedies for Better Sleep
If none of the tips above help you relieve your chronic back pain at night, there are several fast and natural back pain remedies that may work for you. We’ve got a few here.
- Use a menthol-based cream to relieve pain before bed.
- Use cold or hot therapy to soothe your back pain at night.
- Bribe your partner or family member to give you a massage— carefully!
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods like berries, fish, nuts, and veggies on a regular basis.
- Replace your mattress every 7 years or so.
- Stretch gently before bed.
- Listen to relaxing sleep music before bed.
- Get more exercise.
- Replace your pillow every 2 years.
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Summary – Sleeping Better With Chronic Back Pain
Living with chronic pain can be challenging, especially when you can’t sleep. Fortunately, the tips and strategies above can help.
Consider getting a noisemaker or watching an ASMR video to help you relax. Take a warm bath in Epsom salts or do some gentle stretching before bed. Try different sleeping positions for optimal spinal support. Back sleeping is best, if possible.
Do you have chronic back pain or trouble sleeping? What helps you relax and get a good night’s sleep?
Share your thoughts below.
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His Juneau chiropractic practice has received great reviews and top ratings from thousands of patients. His clinic provides chiropractic care, physical rehab therapy, and massage therapy designed to help patients receive long-lasting relief.
He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.