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 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? How Can Chiropractors Help?
Dr. Kevin Lees, DC, The Joint Chiropractic
“When it comes to your spine, getting enough rest at night allows for the muscles that spend all day supporting your spine, to rest and relax. Resting at night lets the discs between the bones in your spine rehydrate, so they can continue to absorb shock and aid in flexibility. Seeking chiropractic care will aid in the correcting of restrictions and misalignments in the spine and boosting the spine’s overall health. The pain and tension that may be released during a chiropractic session may have your body functioning properly, which will make the body more comfortable and easier to fall asleep.”
Dr. Jason Loth, Nevy Health
“Chiropractic is the restoration of the function of the neuromusculoskeletal system including the nerves, muscles and joints. Any time there is lack of mobility within the nerve, muscle or joint, especially of the spine, it can cause discomfort or pain and this could lead to the inability to sleep well.
Restorative sleep is a deep sleep (meaning cycling through all 4 stages of sleep including REM sleep) and if you constantly come out of your sleeping state because of your pain, your body will not become rested, recovered or repaired, resulting in ill health.”
Dr. Matthew Russell, DC, In-Line Family Chiropractic
“Chiropractors improve sleep by making sure you’re sleeping properly – that’s our goal. Science tells us that better alignment improves the overall function of your body, while reducing pressure and unnecessary stresses on the nervous system. Simply put, a body in alignment sleeps better than one out of alignment.
I’m notoriously a terrible sleeper and what has helped me the most is having a specific sleep regimen that promotes spinal alignment and reduction in stress. Our body’s work better when there is no pressure on them. I stretch my body and reduce as much tension on my nervous system as possible. I recommend this to all of my patients.”
Rebekah Drum, DC, Network Family Wellness Center
“Receiving chiropractic care can help improve sleep by improving the health of the nervous system. More ease in the nervous system allows for the whole body to relax which can improve length and quality of sleep. Reducing the amount of flexion in your spine while you sleep can also be beneficial.”
William Charschan DC, CCSP, ICCSP, Charschan Chiropractic and Sports Injury Associates
“A chiropractor can improve the way you move using methods such as myofascial (a.k.a. muscle pain) release to improve how you move. We can also teach exercises to retrain the body away from poor movement patterns. Mattresses will support what you put on it. If your posture and body mechanics are good, the mattress will support that.”
Dr. Jeffrey Klein, Broadway Chiropractic and Wellness
“When you’re stressed out your nervous system is in a ‘Fight or Flight’ mode, which makes it hard to sleep. A chiropractic adjustment will calm your nervous system down to relax the body so you will be able to get a better night sleep. Chiropractors can also help people with sleeping disorders by advising on sleep solutions, like the best type of pillow for someone’s neck, back, and legs; and sleep positions, for instance. Nobody teaches us these matters at school, but sleeping is something we must do every single day.”
What Are Key Tips for Protecting the Spine During Sleep?
Dr. Jenifer Epstein, DC, Hershey Family Chiropractic
“The key to sleeping is to have your spine in a neutral position. This means that your neck, middle and low back are as close to straight as possible to allow for your nervous system and surrounding joints and muscles to function properly. Your spinal cord is inside of your spine, so poor spinal health can lead to symptoms anywhere in the body.
For those of you sleeping on your stomach, it is time to change. If you are a side sleeper, or a stomach sleeper needing to re-train yourself, begin by sleeping with a pillow between your knees, perpendicular to your legs. This not only helps to keep your lower back neutral, but it better aligns your hips to prevent hip pain as well. The pillow, for stomach sleeping, can actually begin to stop you from turning over onto your stomach in the middle of the night!”
Dr. Thanu Jey, Chiropractor & Clinic Director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic
“Two of the biggest factors that affect back pain are excess body weight and poor sleep. Both of these things add more stress to you back without adequate recovery periods and cause increased low back pain. The best sleep position for low back pain is on your back, sleeping face-up. This is the most ideal sleep position, but if you feel some discomfort, you can try placing a pillow under your knees to take some pressure off your back.”
Jeff Williams DC, FIANM(us), Creek Stone Integrated Care
“In generalities for sleep positioning, I typically recommend sleeping on the back with the knees bent and a pillow underneath the knees. Or sleeping in the fetal position with a pillow between the knees. Sleeping on the stomach tends to put the lumbar spine into increased extension and is not typically recommended.”
Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, The Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care
“Strengthen your core muscles. Strong core muscles help to keep your spine aligned and avoid added pressure being placed on your back. Engaging your core muscles in everyday activities is a helpful way to lessen back pain in the present and the future.”
“Stretch. When your back muscles are weak they cannot sustain the movement of everyday life and are likely to ache. Stretching not only makes these muscles more flexible, but it strengthens them as well.”
James Leinhardt, Chief Sleep Posture Expert, Levitex
“Don’t twist your spine nor allow gravity to pull you in all the wrong directions by lying in a poor position and on a poor surface. If you lie on your stomach with your head twisted all the way left or all the way right, on a soft, bendy memory foam mattress, then you’re going to wake up in more pain than when you went to bed.
To optimize sleep posture and mitigate back pain, I recommend side sleeping, on a pillow that fills the space between your earlobe and the tip of your scapula. You should also add an additional pillow between your knees and ankles, to stop your hips from crossing over.”
Maurice Cephus, DC, Centro Chiropractic Clinic
“Your mattress needs to keep your back aligned. In the past, we’d recommended a harder mattress, but the correct approach here is to look at your body and the way you sleep and decide whether a slightly softer mattress is better for you. It’s key to replace your bedding system in a timely manner. Most people have older beds and mattresses, replacing them in time prevents back issues.”
Dr. Andrea Luise, Lakeway Spine Center
“I often recommend that patients set themselves up for optimal sleep with the right support based on their sleeping posture. If they sleep on their back, using support under their knees will help to give the lumbar spine more support. Bending the knees reduces the natural curvature of the lumbar spine, so that the back is better supported. If they’re a side-sleeper, then I recommend using a thicker pillow under their head as well as hugging a body pillow, with the base between their knees and the upper part between their arms. This helps to neutralize their spine horizontally.”
Dr. Kevin Lees, DC, The Joint Chiropractic
“A good pillow is also a must. We would all rather reach for the inexpensive choice, but again, this is a place where a firmer choice is better. A pillow that is too soft may lose the support for your neck overnight. A firm pillow allows your head and neck to remain in proper placement while sleeping. Thickness of a pillow may also depend on the position you sleep in, those that prefer being on their side may need a slightly thicker pillow to accommodate the space for their shoulder. A thinner pillow or a body pillow may also be beneficial to side sleepers to place between their knees. Bending your knees slightly and using a pillow may aid in supporting your hip joints and keeping your low back from twisting.”
We’d like to thank this great panel of chiropractors and physical therapists for taking the time to weight in on such an important issue of restorative sleep. Try making yoga and meditation a part of your nightly routine and experience the wonderful benefits! If you find yourself still struggling to get quality rest, we recommend checking our list of best mattresses for back pain and the mattress buying guide.