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Best Sleeping Positions for Pain at Night

Sleep is as important for your body and mind as good nutrition and exercise. It’s an essential function that allows you to stay refreshed, alert, fight off diseases and stay healthy1. But, if you’re uncomfortable or in pain, getting the recommended 6-9 hours2 can be easier said than done. However, there are things you can do to get a good night’s rest. What are the best sleeping positions for pain? Let’s help you drift off a little easier.

Best sleeping positions for pain

Your sleep position plays a big role in your sleep quality, and particularly if you’re in pain, there’s more to it than just lying down and drifting off. How you sleep matters, and while everyone is different, here are some of the best sleeping positions for back pain.

Fetal position - on your side

Particularly if you have a slipped disc, lying on your side in the fetal position is among the best sleep positions for back pain . This involves rolling onto your side, tucking your knees to your chest and curling your upper body towards them.

Tip: switch sides from time to time; this helps prevent imbalances3.


How does it help?

This is a great sleep position for both lower back pain and pregnancy, and it can also reduce snoring – so it’s a win-win all round. However, if you have stiffness or issues with joint pain, it might not be the right position for you, as you could wake up feeling stiff in the morning4.

Pillow between your knees - on your side

Shift over to your side and put a pillow between your knees – this second part is key, as sleeping on your side alone won’t make your back feel better. Put either one or two pillows between your knees, it will keep your hips, pelvis and spine in better alignment.

If there’s a space between your waist and the mattress, you could use a smaller pillow there, for added support.


How does it help?

The pillow is the trick here! But, sleeping on your side can also help reduce snoring, aid digestion and can even help reduce heartburn. Despite this, in some individuals it can lead to stiffness in the shoulders and jaw tightness, especially if you stick to one side only. There are other sleeping positions for pain you can try if that one doesn’t suit you.

Pillow under your knees - on your back

Prefer to sleep on your back but struggling with back pain? Place a pillow under your knees to help maintain the natural curve of your lower back. You could also try putting a rolled towel underneath the small of your back for additional support5. Of course, keep your neck and head supported with a pillow too.


How does it help?

This sleep position for back pain ensures your weight is evenly distributed and spread across the widest area of your body, putting less strain on pressure points. It also helps align your spine and internal organs. Bear in mind, it can make snoring worse, or worsen conditions like sleep apnea. Ensure you’re properly supported if you struggle with sleep back pain.

Reclined - on your back

Sleeping in a chair is often not a good choice for those with back pain, but many feel most comfortable when reclining; an adjustable bed might be beneficial.


How does it help?

This is particularly good for those with spondylolisthesis, a condition that affects the lower vertebrae, causing one of the spinal bones to slip forward onto the bone directly beneath it6. Reclining can reduce the pressure on your spine by creating an angle. However, for general back pain this sleeping position may not be the best choice.

Pillow under your stomach - on your front

Many people with back pain have been discouraged from sleeping on their front, as it’s believed to make it worse. However, if it’s your preferred position, put a pillow under your pelvis and lower stomach – this will relieve some of the pressure on your back. Depending on how comfortable you are, you may or may not need a pillow under your head.


How does it help?

This position can relieve pressure on your discs. But, for some people this sleep position is not for neck pain relief as it can add stress to that area, meaning you may wake up sore.

Legs straight - on your side

Roll onto your side and stretch your legs out straight, tucking a pillow between your legs if you can. This can help keep your spine in a neutral alignment and is a great sleep position for upper back pain and the neck.


How does it help?

Side sleeping with your legs straight can help you avoid both back and neck pain, while keeping your airways open7.

Tips for relieving pain at night

There are many factors that play into how comfortable you’ll be while you sleep, not just sleeping position. These include:

  • Getting the right pillow; it should cradle your head and neck and help to support the upper portion of your spine. Don’t place it under your shoulders!
    • Back-sleepers: your pillow should fill the space between your neck and the mattress
    • Stomach-sleepers: use the thinnest pillow you can, or none at all
    • Side-sleepers: use a thicker, firmer pillow, keeping your head in line with the rest of your body.
  • Place a firm pillow between your knees too
  • Getting the right mattress: orthopaedic mattresses are recommended for those with back pain. Try not to opt for anything too firm or too soft
  • Keeping proper alignment of your spine – whatever sleep position for pain you choose
  • Getting in and out of bed carefully, avoiding jerking motions
  • Trying gentle yoga stretches; these can also help you relax before bed
  • Doing exercises to strengthen your core; these can help ease back pain8

Other tips for good sleep

Struggling to drift off at night in any position? It might not just be pain that’s the problem. Some other tips include:

  • Managing stress levels
  • Sleeping in a clean, tidy environment
  • Turning off all electronics (e.g. phone, TV)
  • Sleeping in pitch black
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed
  • Blocking out all noise

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it can have a negative impact on your health. However, there are many things you can try to make things better. Make sleep a priority – you should start to reap the benefits!