Welcome to a journey of the best and worst sleeping positions to help enhance your well-being. Your back pain and its potential connection to sleeping positions can significantly impact your nightly habits on your spine. Discover expert insights on the best and worst sleep positions, along with practical tips to alleviate back pain, ensuring your sleep is not just restful but also beneficial for your overall health. Continue reading to learn more about the best and worst sleeping positions for back pain.
Your back is your support system, literally, which is why keeping it in tip-top shape is key. After all, “if your back is strong and healthy, you have the foundation for a strong and healthy body,” explains Todd Sinett, DC, a chiropractor and owner of Tru Whole Care in New York City. Unfortunately, though, back pain is super prevalent, and many adults will experience it at some point in their life. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that the number of folks with lower back pain will increase to about 843 million by 2050.1 What’s more: The position you sleep in could be contributing to your back aches and pains (and back pain can disrupt sleep, too).
That’s right, your sleep posture and setup can potentially do a number on your back, including “using too many pillows, sleeping upright in a chair, or falling asleep on a couch,” Sinett says. All of these can take you out of the best sleep position for your back, which is one where your spine is in a neutral position to lessen pressure points, and what you want is to find a sleeping posture that not only maintains the natural curves in your back, but supports them, too.
(FYI: If back pain is disturbing your sleep quality and precluding you from getting the recommended seven to nine hours you need every night, you may be opening yourself up to a myriad of health issues beyond daytime fatigue and irritability, including heart disease and a weakened immune system.)
Here our back experts offer sleep postures tweaks, better bed tips and even a few stretches to help you relieve back pain (or at least not exacerbate it) so you can continue to get good, restful sleep.
What’s the best sleeping position for back pain?
Best: Sleeping on your side and/or back.
Sinett says there isn’t one, “formulaic answer or magic sleeping position for all,” but there are ways to adjust your current sleeping position to alleviate pain and prevent further aches and stiffness in the morning. But generally speaking, research points to the preferable sleeping positions of lying on your side, lying on your back, or a combination of the two. Meanwhile, the least recommended sleeping position tends to be stomach-lying.
A 2019 scoping review in BMJ Open compared and synthesized over 4,000 articles to pinpoint relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults, and highlight the importance of evaluating sleep posture with respect to waking back pain symptoms. Though it concluded that there “were not enough high-quality studies to adequately answer” their question concretely—is there a relationship between sleep posture and spinal symptoms?—authors noted that “waking pain and stiffness were the most common symptoms explored” and that “side lying was generally protective against spinal symptoms.”
A small 2016 study on the effects of different sleeping positions on back pain in active seniors refers to the 2005 book Back and Bed: Ergonomic Aspects of Sleeping, by Bart Haex, in which Haex explains that lying on your side is one of the most commonly adopted sleeping positions, as well as one of the easiest to optimize to support the natural alignment and curvature of the spine, shoulders, and pelvis in bed with a well-placed pillow.