Lower back pain makes it hard to fall asleep, and it can startle you awake at any hour of the night.
To help you reclaim your sleep schedule, here is a simple guide to sleeping with lower back pain:
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. This means that no single sleeping position works for everyone. Instead, you need to adjust your sleeping position based on the specific condition causing your discomfort.
Here is a list of suggested sleeping positions for some of the most common causes of lower back pain:
- 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 can bring relief.
- Isthmic Spondylolisthesis. Many people find that sleeping in a reclining position brings the most relief from lower back pain caused by isthmic spondylolisthesis. If you find this position works best for you, an adjustable bed may be a worthwhile purchase.
- Degenerative disc disease. You may relieve your lower back pain caused by degenerative disc disease by sleeping on your stomach—as this position can alleviate pressure on the disc space. You can also minimize the stress on your lower back by placing a slim pillow under your stomach and hips.
Remember that all of the above sleeping positions are only suggestions. The best way to find a sleeping position that will bring you relief is to experiment with various positions over the course of 2 weeks. During this time, write down the results of how you feel in a journal each morning, and at the end of the week you will have a good idea of the best sleeping position for your back pain.
2. Distract yourself with gentle sounds
Your experience of chronic pain can worsen at night due to the absence of distractions. When your lights go out, almost all of the stimuli that have held your attention during the day dissipate, and you tend to focus more on your pain.
As your experience of back pain increases, it often becomes harder to fall asleep. To keep your mind from focusing on your back pain, try playing soothing music, a low-key audio book, or a relaxation tape once you turn the lights off.
Regardless of what kind of audio you choose to play, make sure you select something that is relaxing and free of harsh sounds or intense plot lines. For example, if you opt for an audio book, try a story meant for children. While you may prefer thrillers, the intensity of the story can keep you awake well past your bedtime.
3. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
If your lower back pain consistently interferes with your sleep, you may be tempted to abandon any type of sleep schedule. 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.
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. 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 or knitting. Over time, following a consistent nightly routine will signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep.
- Avoid electronics. At least 30 minutes before bedtime, turn off all the electronics in your house. The light emitted from your devices can confuse your body as to what time of day it is, which in turn makes it more difficult to fall asleep at a consistent time.
In addition to making efforts to fall asleep at the same time each night, it is also important to 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.