How to Sleep with Back Pain

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If you suffer from back pain, getting a good night’s sleep can feel impossible. Back pain can make it a chore to find a comfortable sleeping position and can disrupt sleep quality. Read on to find out what causes back pain and what you can do about it.

[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.] 

Types of Back Pain

All back pain is not created equal. The location of your pain can impact what you need to do to feel better. 

A man sitting on a bed clutches his lower back, showing that it's in pain

Neck and Shoulders

Neck and shoulder pain comes from various factors, including poor posture, muscle strain and underlying medical conditions such as herniated discs or arthritis. Prolonged periods of desk work, mobile device usage and improper sleeping positions can contribute to this discomfort. Folks who engage in repetitive motions or maintain static postures, such as office workers and students, are most susceptible to this type of pain.

Middle Back

Middle back pain often arises due to poor posture, muscle imbalances and stress. Poor ergonomics, especially during prolonged sitting or heavy lifting, can strain the muscles and ligaments in the middle back region. 

Lower Back and Sciatica

Low back pain and sciatica often arise from herniated discs, spinal stenosis or muscle strains. Sciatica results explicitly from compression of the sciatic nerve, causing radiating pain down the leg. Individuals who frequently engage in heavy lifting, have poor posture or experience age-related changes in the spine are more susceptible. While low back pain can affect people across various demographics, sciatica tends to be more prevalent in individuals aged 30-50 and during pregnancy. 

What Causes Back Pain?

The causes of back pain are multifaceted, ranging from everyday habits to underlying medical conditions. Understanding these contributing factors is essential for effective management and prevention strategies.


Various factors, including injury, can cause back pain. Strained muscles, herniated discs, and fractures can all contribute to back pain. 

Spinal Alignment

Poor spinal alignment can lead to back pain. Improper posture, weak core muscles or structural abnormalities can cause misalignment.

Sleep Position

Sleep position can play a significant role in causing back pain. Sleeping on your stomach, for example, can strain your neck and lower back because it doesn’t keep your spine aligned properly. On the other hand, sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees can help ease pressure on your spine and improve comfort.

A man laying on a bed clutches his lower back and shows he is in pain


As we age, the natural wear and tear on our bodies can contribute to back pain. Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis can cause chronic pain and stiffness.


Fibromyalgia can lead to chronic back pain associated with widespread musculoskeletal discomfort and heightened pain sensitivity. This condition often involves tender points around the back and neck, amplifying pain responses. 

How Back Pain Impacts Sleep

Back pain can significantly disrupt sleep patterns, decreasing sleep quality and duration. A 2022 study found that individuals with chronic back pain often experience difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep and achieving restorative sleep due to pain-related discomfort. This can create a cycle of pain and poor sleep that exacerbates both conditions. 

What Is the Best Sleeping Position for Back Pain?

Finding the best sleeping position for back pain can vary depending on the individual and the type of back pain experienced. However, some general guidelines can help alleviate discomfort and promote better sleep.

Back Sleepers

For back sleepers, placing a pillow or rolled-up towel under the knees can help maintain the spine’s natural curvature. This reduces strain on the lower back and promotes proper spinal alignment. Additionally, using a supportive pillow that cradles the neck and supports its natural curve can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers with back pain should sleep with a pillow between their knees. This helps align the hips, pelvis, and spine, reducing pressure on the lower back. It is also important to use a supportive pillow that keeps the head and neck in a neutral position to prevent strain.

A woman sleeps on her side with the Tuft & Needle body pillow

Stomach Sleepers

Sleeping on the stomach is generally not recommended for those with back pain as it can strain the neck and spine. However, placing a thin pillow under the hips can help maintain proper spinal alignment if you prefer this position.

How to Sleep with Back Pain

Modifying sleep positions, optimizing your sleep space, and embracing relaxation practices can enhance sleep quality and alleviate back discomfort.

Find the Right Mattress for You

Choosing the right mattress can make a significant difference in managing back pain and improving sleep quality. A mattress that provides adequate support and comfort for your specific needs is crucial. Medium-firm mattresses are generally recommended for those with back pain as they offer support and cushioning.

Support with Pillows

In addition to finding the right mattress, using pillows strategically can provide extra support and alleviate back pain. As mentioned, placing a pillow under or between the knees can help maintain proper spinal alignment while sleeping. Additionally, using a pillow that supports the neck’s natural curvature and keeps it aligned with the spine can reduce neck and shoulder pain.

Supplement with Heat or Cold Therapy

Heat and cold therapy can provide temporary relief from back pain. Using a heated blanket or taking a warm bath before bed can help relax the muscles and reduce pain. Alternatively, a cold pack wrapped in a thin towel can help numb the area and reduce inflammation. Experiment with heat and cold therapy to see which works best for you.

Take Medication

Over-the-counter and natural pain medications can help manage back pain and improve sleep. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation. Natural remedies such as ginger can also reduce inflammation. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medication to ensure it is safe and appropriate for your condition.

How to Combat Back Pain During the Day

Back pain doesn’t have to impact your sleep forever. You can do several simple things to take care of your back and reduce pain.


Exercise such as stretching can help alleviate back pain and improve flexibility. Incorporate gentle stretching exercises into your daily routine to relieve muscle tension and promote a healthy spine. Focus on stretches that target the back, hips and hamstrings. Remember to warm up before stretching and avoid any movements that cause pain or discomfort.

Practice a Healthy Diet

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help manage back pain. The most famous of these is the Mediterranean diet. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. Additionally, staying hydrated is important for spinal health, as the discs between the vertebrae require proper hydration to function optimally.

Practice Good Posture

Maintaining good posture throughout the day prevents and manages back pain. Avoid slouching or hunching over, especially when sitting for long periods. Use ergonomic chairs or cushions that provide lumbar support to promote proper spinal alignment.

Seek Medical Help

If back pain persists or worsens despite self-care measures, it is important to seek medical help. A healthcare professional can evaluate your condition and recommend appropriate treatment options. This may include physical therapy, chiropractic care or other interventions tailored to your needs.


Can sleeping on your side cause back pain?

Sleeping on your side can sometimes lead to back pain, mainly if the body is not correctly aligned. Placing a pillow between your knees or using a supportive mattress can help maintain spinal alignment and reduce the risk of discomfort.

How can I relieve back pain during pregnancy while sleeping?

Try to find a comfortable sleep position that supports the spine. Consider using pillows to support your back, hips and knees. Opting for a firm mattress and utilizing pregnancy pillows can help maintain proper alignment and ease pressure on the lower back.

Can sleeping on your stomach cause back pain?

Yes, sleeping on your stomach can lead to back pain. This position can strain the neck and lower back due to the unnatural spinal alignment. Choosing alternative sleep positions that provide better support and alignment for the spine is advisable.

Does sleeping on the floor help with back pain?

Sleeping on the floor may offer temporary relief for some back pain sufferers due to the firmer and more supportive surface it provides. However, individual comfort and preferences should be taken into account

The Takeaway

Sleeping with back pain can be challenging, but with the right strategies and support, it is possible to achieve restful sleep. Adopting the best sleeping positions, choosing a supportive mattress, strategically using pillows, and implementing self-care measures during the day can significantly improve sleep quality and manage back pain.

Jessie Gellings

Jessie Gellings is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and student of the American Medical Writers Association.  She specializes in supporting women-led, health-focused organizations. When she's not writing, you'll find Jessie wandering in wild places, singing, and cooking.