A Simple Guide to Sleeping with Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain not only makes it hard to fall asleep, it can also startle you awake at any hour of the night. No single remedy works for everyone with lower back pain, but any of the following tips may help you enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep:

See Pain and Sleeping Problems Need to be Treated Together

Seek immediate medical attention if your back pain is accompanied by a loss of bladder or bowel control.
When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

1. Adjust your sleeping position based on your lower back condition

Lower back pain is not a diagnosis, but rather a symptom of an underlying medical condition. So if you want to alleviate your lower back pain, it’s a good idea to adjust your sleeping position based on the specific condition causing your discomfort. Consider these sleeping positions if you have one of the following conditions:

  • Herniated disc. Adjust your sleeping position based on the position of your herniated disc. If you have a paracentral disc herniation, you will typically feel better lying on your stomach. If you have a foraminal herniated disc, sleeping on your side in a curled-up fetal position may help you find relief.
  • Isthmic Spondylolisthesis. Many people find that sleeping in a reclining position brings the most relief from lower back pain caused by isthmic spondylolisthesis. Consider investing in an adjustable bed if you find this position works best for you.
  • See Using an Adjustable Bed for Back Pain

  • Degenerative disc disease. You may relieve your lower back pain caused by degenerative disc disease by sleeping on your stomach—as this position can relieve pressure on the disc space. You can also reduce the stress on your lower back by placing a slim pillow under your stomach and hips.
  • See Different Types of Pillows

Remember that all of the above sleeping positions are only suggestions. Your best bet for finding relief from your lower back pain is to experiment with various sleeping positions until you find the one that works for you.

See Mattresses and Sleep Positions for Each Back Pain Diagnosis

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2. Ease your lower back pain with cold therapy

The application of ice and/or a cold gel pack before bed can provide quick pain relief by reducing the inflammation in your lower back and slowing down your nerve impulses. One option to help you sleep better is a nightly ice massage, which may provide additional pain relief through the gentle manipulation of your soft tissue.

Watch Video: How to Make a Gel Ice Pack

Interested? Here’s how to do it:

  • Freeze water in a paper cup. Once the ice has hardened, peel away the top inch of the cup.
  • Lie on your side with the cup in hand, and use your hand closest to the ceiling to reach around to your lower back.
  • Apply the ice in a circular motion in a 6-inch area around the location of your pain. You can also lie flat on your back and have another person apply the massage.
  • Limit your ice massage to 5 minutes to avoid a possible ice burn.

See How to Use Ice Massage Therapy for Back Pain

If a nightly ice massage isn't for you, you can also wrap a cold pack in a cloth and apply it to your lower back for 15-20 minutes before bed.

Watch Video: How to Make 5 Quick and Easy Ice Packs

woman sleeping Choosing a consistent time to go to bed and wake up will help you develop a sleep schedule and make it easier to fall asleep each night. See Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Breaking the Cycle

3. Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule

If your lower back pain consistently interferes with your sleep, you likely sleep for as long as possible regardless of when you’re able to actually fall asleep. For example, if your lower back pain keeps you up until 5:00 a.m., you may sleep in until 2:00 p.m. the following afternoon.

See Psychological Approaches for Insomnia

As tempting as this practice can be, a regular sleep schedule helps to maintain your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle—which in turn makes it easier for you to fall asleep each night. With this in mind, here are some pointers on how to establish and maintain a regular sleep schedule:

  • Follow a nightly routine. The first step in establishing a nightly routine is to pick a consistent bed time—make sure to choose a time that will allow for roughly 8 hours of sleep each night. Next, choose 1 or 2 relaxing activities to practice each night before bed. Everyone’s preferences are different, but 30-60 minutes before your bed time you might try taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music, or knitting. Over time, following a consistent nightly routine will signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep.
  • See Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

  • Avoid stimulants. It’s best for chronic lower back pain suffers to avoid caffeine altogether, but if you’re not ready to give up your coffee make sure you finish your last cup before 12:00 p.m. Additionally, avoid rigorous exercise before bed as this can make it hard to sleep by raising your heart rate, adrenaline levels, and body temperature.
  • See Exercise and Back Pain

Last but not least, make sure you wake up—and immediately get out of bed—at the same time each morning.

I hope all of the above advice will help you find relief from your lower back pain and enjoy a more restful night’s sleep.

Learn More:

Natural Remedies and Herbal Supplements as Sleep Aids

Best Mattress for Low Back Pain

Post written by Andrew Moeller