Sleeping Well With Low Back Pain

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on May 16, 2021

If you have low back pain, pain doesn't stop when you go to bed at night. There's a vicious cycle of back pain and sleep problems that contribute to each other. It can be difficult to sleep well if your back hurts. And sometimes your back hurts more because you're not sleeping well. Here are some simple steps you can take to get a better night's rest, even when you have low back pain symptoms.

Support Your Low Back While in Bed

Do you often wake up with low back pain? Do you sleep better on a hotel mattress? Does your mattress show signs of wear? The Better Sleep Council recommends that you evaluate your mattress about every 5 to 7 years. You may need a change for optimal comfort and support. In a Journal of Applied Ergonomics study, nearly 63% reported significant improvements in low back pain after switching to a new sleep system.

If your budget allows for buying a new mattress, don’t be afraid to "test drive" a few options. When in the store, take off your shoes, lie down in your favorite sleeping position, and spend a few minutes resting. Make sure the mattress supports you well enough to maintain your spine in the position you have with good standing posture. A firm or medium-firm mattress is usually best.

Here are some other things to try for better sleep:

  • If buying a new bed is not an option right now, try adding plywood supports between the mattress and its base. Or as a temporary solution, have someone move your mattress onto the floor.
  • Put a pillow under your knees when lying on your back and between your knees when lying on your side.
  • To help maintain the curve in your back while sleeping, try a rolled-up towel, wrapped around your waist and tied in front.

Get In and Out of Bed Safely

When getting in and out of bed, never jerk yourself up from a lying position.

  • To get into bed, sit on the side of the bed. Supporting yourself with your hands, bend your knees, and lie down onto your side.
  • To get out of bed, roll onto your side, bend both knees, and push yourself up with your hands, while swinging your legs over the side of the bed. Avoid bending forward at the waist, which can put strain on your back.

Medication for Back Pain

If needed, medication can help relieve pain allowing you to sleep better. These may include pain killers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and topical treatments. Short-term use of sleep medications may also help some people with sleep problems.

Tips for Better Sleep

Here are a few more tips for a restful night's sleep:

  • Rest may help, but don't stay in bed more than a day or two after an injury. This may make matters worse.
  • If your pain is bad and you need to lie down to get comfortable, be sure to get up every so often and move. This can relieve stiffness and pain, which will help you sleep better at night.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the evening to help with sleep quality.
  • Don't overeat before bed. Make sure you don't eat a large meal before going to sleep, which can interfere with sleep and cause digestive problems.
  • Try relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing.

If your back hurts worse at night -- no matter how many positions you try -- tell your doctor. It could be a sign of a more serious problem.

WebMD Medical Reference



Heffner, K. The Clinical Journal of Pain, January 2011.

The Better Sleep Council: "Americans Get Physical After a Good Night in Bed," "The Better Sleep Guide."

University of Missouri-Columbia: "Mechanical Low Back Pain."

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