We all know the positive effects sleep can have on our mental health, muscle recovery and general well-being. Few things can replace a night of restorative sleep! However, many people often overlook the important links between sleep and spine health, including posture, back pain, and more. To help you learn more, we asked leading chiropractors and physical therapists about the relationship between sleep and spine health and what you can do to protect your spine and get a night of quality sleep. See what the experts have to say:
What Is The Connection Between Spine Health And Sleep?
Aaron Rossi, Rossi Chiropractic Center
“Sleep is fundamentally a neurological function. And a massive portion of the nervous system is protected by the spine. If the spine is in a worn or injured state it stays at a higher level of engagement as a protective measure. Think of it as the many tiny muscles that interconnect all the bumps and pointy parts are in a higher state of tension.”
“This happens because if the spine moves too much or in the wrong way it can compromise the nerves it’s there to protect. So a spine in poor shape, subconsciously, physiologically will undermine deep restful sleep.”
Danielle Salgo, PT, The Fit New Mom
“While the spine is meant to move through many different positions, staying in one position for 8 hours (while sleeping) will affect the alignment of the spine. Individuals with back or neck pain often see improvement with positioning their spine to be as neutral as possible, meaning that the normal curve of the spine is maintained.”
David Shapiro, DC, Complete Spine Solutions
“As we age, our spines age. With that, our spines generally lose flexibility. The ligaments that hold our spine together lose their elasticity. Our spinal bones break down due to the effect of gravity. The curve in our upper back often increases. Our necks become more rigid and shift forward. All this not only causes pain but also impacts our sleep.”
C. Vicki Gold, PT, Thera Fitness
“The right mattress and pillow(s) can minimize stresses on many joints and muscles, including those around the neck, shoulders and even hips. Poor or inadequate support can create pressure-points or put body parts in awkward positions that can pinch nerves or cause pain-producing muscle tightness and spasms.”
Dr. Derrell Blackburn, DC, The Joint Chiropractic
“Getting plenty of rest has a positive impact on nearly every system in the body, and when it comes to the spine, getting enough rest at night allows for the muscles that spend all day supporting the spine to rest and relax. Resting at night also allows the discs between the bones in the spine to rehydrate to properly absorb shock and aid in flexibility.”
“The overall objective of sleep accessories are to support the natural curves of the spine and assure they are not promoting long term, abnormal positions throughout the night. This could be softer accessories for adaptability, or something more firm for those of us that do not move much at night. Each accessory could look different for each patient, but the important thing is that it is supporting a comfortable, good night’s sleep.”
Dr. Alicia Armistead, DC, Healing Arts NYC
“Part of a good night’s sleep is keeping the spine in alignment. If it’s compressed in any way, it will pinch on the nerves, and nerve flow will be limited. Lack of nerve flow to the muscles and organs means they don’t have optimal support to do their job even while you are sleeping. That is unnecessary stress on the body that you don’t need. You should never be sore when you wake up in the morning. If you are, then make sure you change something about the way you are sleeping or the support you have. Maybe it’s time for a new pillow or a new mattress.”
What Are Your Key Tips For Protecting The Spine During Sleep?
“Some protective tips are to sleep on your back when possible– it gives more surface area of the body to spread the weight across. Which causes less harm to the parts bearing the weight. Turning your head to either side while lying on your back can be helpful for neck joints and discs.”
“When lying on your side keeping your head tall, not tucked forward and keeping your head left-right aligned neutral to the spine, not propped up higher or tilted down. Also keeping your elbows below your shoulders is all less stressful on the neck.”
Dr. Marc Ott, DC, Complete Care
“Proper positioning helps to create the muscle relaxation in the paraspinal muscles throughout the night so you wake rested and refreshed. Using an improper sleeping position such as stomach sleeping can cause you to waken with tightness or muscle spasms from over exertion from your body trying to support a non-weight bearing position. Stomach sleeping should be avoided at all costs.”
Jaclyn Fulop, Exchange Physical Therapy Group
“I would recommend sleeping with a medium-firm mattress for good posture when you sleep, which is great for both comfort and support. With this kind of particular mattress type you have a more restful sleep which also promotes healing and tissue repair.”
“Sleeping on a very firm or hard mattress may be beneficial on the short term for people with acute low back pain (also the reason why some people swear by sleeping on the floor if their back is in extreme pain) because keeps the spine in a neutral posture position taking pressure off the stabilizer muscles that support body weight.”
“Sleep in a neutral position. Keep your entire spine relatively straight when you sleep. If your neck is bent to one side or the other for side sleepers, this can cause pain and other health issues. If you are a back sleeper, sleep on the minimal amount of pillows. Too many people use too many pillows and this will not only bend the spine in an unnatural position forward, but it also can obstruct normal breathing.”
Willam Charschan DC,CCSP, ICCSP, Charschan Chiropractic
For those with spinal pain, they do best with a mattress that allows the shoulders and hips to sink in. Many of today’s foam mattresses allow for this as well as the hybrid designs that use spring and have the upper layers of foam which can be anything from memory foam, a memory foam composite or other designs. Standard box spring mattresses are designed to support the hips and shoulders. Someone with back problems may find these less comfortable to sleep on.
James A Devine, DC, Devine Chiropractic & Rehab Center
“When choosing a mattress, you want to find one that will continuously support your body at all points and keep your spine in a “straight line”, like a person who has great standing posture. Your shoulders, hips, and lower back are the heaviest parts of your body, so your mattress should contour to these points. If you choose a mattress that is not firm enough to support your shoulders, hips and lower back, your spine will not be properly aligned and your muscles will tense up and work overtime, which can lead to difficulty sleeping, stiffness and chronic back pain.”
We’re very grateful for the physical therapists and chiropractors willing to lend their knowledge and advice to our community. Whether you’re struggling with back pain or just want to maintain solid posture, we hope these expert tips will lead you to many nights of restorative sleep and a healthy spine! For mattress recommendations, check out our lists for the best mattresses for back pain and the best mattresses for lower back pain and sciatica.