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Published: March 20, 2021

Best Sleeping Positions for Pain Relief

By: Riley Weiler, MRU Practicum Student at AST

Sleep, like pain or injury, is unique to each individual. Most people have that ‘go-to’ sleeping position, whether that be on your back, side, stomach, or some type of combination. No matter what your preference is, if you’re finding that you frequently wake up feeling stiff and sore, keep reading for 3 tips and tricks to a better night’s sleep!

Keep it Neutral

Spinal alignment is definitely something to consider if you are experiencing discomfort from your sleeping position. The best way to reduce discomfort is to keep the spine as neutral as possible. This means trying your best to keep your natural alignment all the way from your head/neck, down to you hips/buttocks. Keeping neutral alignment also requires you to be mindful of major areas like your shoulders, hips, and knees. Having your spine straight does not mean you have to sleep on your back, stiff as a board. It just means doing what you can to reduce those awkward arches that go hand-in-hand with each sleeping position.

Fill in the Gaps

Pillows can be a saving grace when it comes to correcting your alignment during sleep. Often times there are ‘gaps’ in our sleeping positions that can cause awkward bends in the spine, resulting in excess pressure on the spine and supporting musculature. This excess pressure can be quickly reduced by filling the gap with a pillow.

Stomach Sleepers: Try sleeping with a small pillow under your stomach and hip area. This will relieve some of the pressure on your lower back by reducing the excess amount of curve that occurs when lying on your stomach.

Back Sleepers: Place a small pillow under your knees. This helps maintain the natural curve of the lower back and pelvis.

Side Sleepers: Body pillows are a great option to help your alignment when sleeping on your side! You can place the body pillow between your knees to reduce the amount of strain on your hips and back from the upper leg. You can also use the upper portion of the pillow to ‘hug’ which should reduce misalignment in the shoulders and prevent twisting in the upper back/neck.

Avoid Sleeping in 'Extreme' Positions

Avoid positions where muscles are either under extreme tension or contraction. For example if you are using a pillow that is too soft, your head will sink in, causing one side of the neck to be under constant contraction, and the other to be under constant tension. This position irritates the muscles in the neck and the cervical spine. When we wake up and quickly straighten our necks without warming up those muscles or considering the position we were sleeping in, we rapidly stretch the muscles that have been in a contracted position all night, and shorten those that have been under tension resulting in feeling stiff and sore or possibly injuring yourself. Try to be extra aware of your sleeping positions if they could be an ‘extreme’ position, and be a little cautious when jumping out of bed in the morning!

Remember, sleep is different for every single person! Try not to get too hung up on feeling like you have to sleep a certain way if you are struggling with lower back pain. Most people’s sleeping positions change throughout the night while they are tossing and turning, but these simple corrective tips could help here and there. If you are interested in further sleeping tips, refer to our earlier blog post about choosing the right pillow here.

*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  

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