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Trying to sleep while experiencing back pain can be frustrating. Your body needs sleep to recover and heal, yet, you can’t get comfortable to get a good night’s rest.  Difficulty sleeping is among one of the most common problems associated with low back pain.

There are several reasons your back may hurt more at night than during the daytime.

1) You are not moving.

By not moving much your muscles can get stiff. If you try to move, you realize how stiff your muscles have become and how difficult they are to move.  This creates pain.

2) You are more mindful of the pain.

While concentrating on all you have to do during the day, your pain can sometimes ease or at least dampen. 

Every minute of every day your brain performs a type of triage by deciding which tasks or sensations are important.  The brain uses its energy for those sensations which important to your safety.   Unless detrimental to your movement throughout the day, low grade back pain is one sensation the brain inhibits while working during the day.  It isn’t until the evening as the day quiets that the pain inches up on the priority list in your brain.

3) Your weight distribution changes. 

While you are lying in bed, your weight distributes in a different pattern than while you are sitting or standing. Depending on how you sleep, you may put more stress on the spine while lying than when upright.

No matter why your back hurts, it is important to discover how you can sleep comfortably to speed up healing.  

Below are tips you can use to position yourself better in bed and relieve back pain while you sleep.

Side Sleeper

Sleeping on your side, or in the fetal position, stresses your lower spine.  While on your side, no bones support the lower spine. This allows the vertebrae to curve slightly and place undue stress on the back muscles which support them. 

Poor pelvic bone alignment can also increase discomfort when in this side position for several hours.  

If you regularly sleep on your side, try this:

*Place a small pillow or rolled towel right in the area between your ribs and top of hip bone.  This will support the lower spine and reduce the curvature.

*Place a pillow in between your knees to support good pelvic alignment.

Back Sleeper

Sleeping on your back can increase the arch of your low back which may make your pain worse.  

There is a simple trick to prevent this extension or arching of your back:

*Place pillows underneath both knees so that hips are in a flexed position.  This will round your lower back and reduce pain.

Stomach Sleeper

If you are a stomach sleeper, you may have the most difficult time getting to sleep.  Just like a back sleeper, your pain can worsen because it is in extension.  The big difference is that when you sleep on your stomach, your back is arched much more than if you were sleeping on your back.  No pillows at the knees will help.  

Reducing the extension in the lower back will likely decrease pain.  To create a neutral or rounded lower spine while you sleep, try this:

*Place a pillow or two underneath your stomach. Make sure it is situated between both of your hip bones.

*For a little extra comfort, you can add a small rolled pillow or towel under your ankles.  This can decrease the stretch your hamstrings may feel during the night and make you feel a bit more comfortable in the morning.

Conclusion

Although these three sleeping positions will work for the majority of people, some people may find these positions increase back pain.  A physical therapist can provide quick and simple testing to determine whether or not these modifications will improve your symptoms.  He or she can also provide you with an appropriate bedtime exercise routine to aid with healing while you sleep. 

If you are suffering from low back pain, contact your physical therapist today to schedule an examination.