3 years ago

8 Ways To A Good Night’s Sleep For People With Back Pain

Sleep can be hard to come by for people with persistent back pain. However, it's vital for keeping your back healthy, so learn how you can achieve it despite the pain here.

how to sleep

Sleep is a wonderful thing.

As it’s a time when your body and mind regenerate from the stresses and strains of the previous day.

And it’s not only your body and mind that are restored and refreshed by a good night's sleep. 

As it also regenerates your central nervous system, which helps to regulate your emotions and keep you on an even keel.

So the benefits of good quality restorative sleep are almost endless as it can:

  • Improve your physical condition.
  • Help to maintain your mental well-being.
  • Boost your immune system.
  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Boost your energy levels.
  • Improve your concentration and memory.
  • And help you to maintain a healthy sex drive.

However, when you are deprived of getting a decent night's sleep on a regular basis it's bad news.

As this can result in various problems such as:

  • It can lead to mental and physical fatigue during the day.
  • Make you more susceptible to injuries and strains.
  • It can affect your moods making angry, frustrated, or withdrawn.
  • This can make it hard to concentrate on things.
  • You also become forgetful as it becomes harder to form and retain long-term memory.
  • It can weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to picking up colds and illnesses.

And unfortunately this is a big issue for people that suffer from persistent back pain.

For instance, one study of people with chronic lower back pain found that a whopping 78% of them said they were suffering from some kind of sleep disorder. 

So there's a good chance you'll understand what I'm talking about here.

And a sleep disorder that lasts for a long period can have even more serious long-term effects such as:

  • It can increase the levels of back pain you experience.
  • Lead to serious psychology problems such as depression and anxiety.
  • Put you at risk of obesity.
  • Expose you to a greater risk of developing type II diabetes.
  • Lead to heart problems and cardiovascular disease.

Pretty serious stuff right?

Which makes insomnia a problem that needs tackling and I'll show you some methods for doing that here.

Things To Rule Out Before You Begin

Now it's important to point out that insomnia isn't always caused by pain, stress, or bad sleeping habits.

As it can also be a byproduct of serious medical conditions that you will need to get checked out by your GP.

So before I go on to explain the ways you can beat your insomnia, first make sure that you are not suffering from any of the following conditions:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where you temporarily stop breathing during your sleep.

Which sounds pretty terrifying!

This usually lasts for around ten seconds at a time but it can last for up to a couple of minutes.

And it causes carbon dioxide to build up in your bloodstream.

Which wakes your brain up from it's slumber in order to breathe oxygen in again.

And as these episodes can happen up to 5 times per hour you can imagine how big a cause of insomnia this can be.

Sleep apnea is a common problem among people who are overweight, smokers, and people with sinus problems.

And it can be hard to self-diagnose.

So ask your partner if they've noticed these symptoms when you are sleeping because they will definitely have noticed the snoring that goes along with it!

Restless Legs Syndrome

I get restless legs myself sometimes when trying to get to sleep, especially if I can't get to sleep quickly.

So it's a race against time for me to get to sleep before my legs start cramping and forcing me to move them.

Restless legs syndrome is a neurological condition that causes your legs to have uncomfortable sensations in them such as muscle spasms, tingling or buzzing, which leads to an uncontrollable urge to move them.

And it can even cause your limbs to jerk automatically.

So moving them gives you temporary relief from the spasms but the sensations return almost immediately which makes it very difficult to get to sleep.

There could be various causes of restless legs syndrome including iron deficiency or an over-reactive nervous system.

However, it can also be a sign of more serious problems so it's good to get it checked out.

Clinical Depression Or Anxiety

Both depression and anxiety are well known to contribute to sustained periods of insomnia, with the depression or anxiety feeding the insomnia and vice versa. 

And the medication that you need to take for these conditions may also make it difficult to get the quality of sleep that you desire.

So if you suffer from either of these conditions then you should seek advice and help from a professional beyond the scope of what I can offer here.

As you need to treat the depression and anxiety alongside your insomnia to reach a solution.

8 Things You Can Try To Beat Your Insomnia Problem

When you look into how to get a better night's sleep it all boils down to improving your sleep hygiene.

And despite how it sounds this has nothing to do with cleanliness! 

Instead it’s about doing all you can to give yourself the best chance of sleeping well. 

So basically developing good habits both in regards to sleeping and your behaviours during the day.

But the problem is that we usually do the opposite without even realising it.

As we lead such busy and stressful lives that it can be hard to switch off and relax.

We also work longer hours and sometimes bring that work home with us.

And we rely on stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine to get us through each day.

Then there is technology.

Because we are now constantly connected to smartphones and the internet, which keep our brains wired and craving more stimulation.

We also fill our bedrooms with these stimulating distractions such as TVs, video game consoles and laptops.

And at the same time our minds are filled with work worries, money worries, and family issues.

So in short modern life can be stressful.

Which means that by the time your head hits the pillow at the end of the day your brain and nervous system may be so wired that you find it really difficult to get to sleep.

So it’s not just back pain that is responsible for keeping you awake night after night.

What you do during the day directly contribute to it too.

However there are steps you can take to change this and I'll take you through them now.

1. Sleeping Pills

The pretty colours mask a ton of potential side effects.

For me personally I go out of my way to steer clear of taking any kind of medication.

And even when my pain has been really bad I’ve always relied on other methods to reduce it and get me back on an even keel.

I guess I just don’t like the idea of relying on drugs or the side effects that come along with them.

However, I realise that not everyone feels this way or has the good fortune to be able to take this stance.

So for those of you that are open to it, medication for treating insomnia could be a road to go down as it has been shown to be effective.

For example, one 2014 study published in Sleep Journal looked at 52 people suffering from insomnia and lower back pain who were already on medication for the back pain.

With the purpose of seeing whether adding medication to treat their insomnia alongside their pain medication would improve their sleep.

And it was found that adding a drug called Eszopiclone to a patient’s regime significantly improved their sleep quality.

Which subsequently led to the patient also showing improved pain levels and fewer symptoms of depression.

So by treating both their pain and insomnia with medication, the people tested showed a big improvement all round.

So if you think taking medication for insomnia is something you’d like to try, talk it over with your doctor and discuss your options.

2. Make Your Bedroom An Oasis For Sleeping

Using your bedroom as a place to hang out, eat, watch TV, play video games, or work is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to dealing with your sleep problem.

Because by doing so your brain becomes conditioned to see the bedroom as a stimulating rather than relaxing environment.

And there should be only one form of stimulation occurring in the bedroom!

So make sure your bedroom is only used for sleeping and sex and optimise it for these purposes.

There are a few ways to do this.

  • Keep all electronics out of the bedroom.
  • Make sure the room temperature isn't too hot or cold, as a slightly cool temperature is perfect for sleep.
  • Buy some blackout blinds or curtains to stop outside light getting in and waking you up.
  • Keep noise distractions to a minimum.
  • Don't hang out in your bedroom when you're not trying to get to sleep.

This last one will help you to relax and switch off when you are in your bedroom.

As it will condition your brain to associate the bedroom with sleeping rather than just lounging.

So by making your bedroom a restful place you are creating an environment that gives you the best chance of getting a great night’s sleep.

3. Prepare Your Mind & Body For Sleep

Take time to chill before bed

Feeling relaxed enough in both your body and mind to fall asleep when the time comes is absolutely crucial.

However, it's easy to get into bad habits that make this state difficult to achieve. 

To combat this you need to cut back on mentally and physically stimulating activities in the hours leading up to sleep.

So no late night TV or video games, resist the urge to work right up until bedtime, and give social media and your phone a swerve after a certain time.

Also while regular exercise is great for maintaining a healthy sleep cycle, exercising in the two hours leading up to sleep can leave you feeling too hyped up to get to sleep.

I know that whenever I played football matches at night I always struggled to sleep afterwards because the adrenaline was still pumping through me. 

So try to fit in your workouts earlier in the day or evening.

And also try to find some activities that help you to relax in the build up to bedtime.

Now this all depends on what works for you.

This could include anything from listening to soothing music, reading a book, taking a bath or shower, meditating, practicing deep breathing exercises, or just having a gentle stretch.

It’s all about getting into a relaxed physical and mental state before trying to get to sleep and cutting out any distractions.

4. Limit Artificial Stimulants

Coffee is great in the mornings, but not later on.

Coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes all play their part in helping you get through life's trials and tribulations.

However, they can also keep you up at night and affect your sleep quality.

So while caffeine-fueled drinks can help you to maintain energy levels and remain alert during your busy day. 

Continuing to drink them into the afternoon and evening stimulates your brain and nervous system to the extent that sleeping may become difficult.

So it's important to limit the amount of coffee, tea, and energy drinks you consume throughout the day.

And also try not to consume them at all after the early afternoon.

If you do feel the need for a hot drink in the evening then why not try drinking an caffeine-free alternative such as green tea or cocoa instead?

And smokers also need to be wary as smoking keeps the brain alert and should be avoided if possible late in the evening.

Alcohol is another stimulant, however it works in a different way as it can help you to relax and unwind after a long day.

Which in some cases (and in small amounts) can be helpful to get you in the right frame of mind to get to sleep.

So a glass of wine in the evening may be a great way to help you to relax.

But alcohol poses a different sleep problem as it disrupts your sleep and affects the quality of it.

So while you may be getting the hours in, it’s not always the good quality restorative sleep that you need.

And those few drinks that help you to relax in the evening may also be the thing that is leaving you feeling tired and lethargic the following day.

But I do realise that life is not about giving up all the things you enjoy.

And the relaxing qualities that alcohol brings can serve a purpose when it comes to being able to sleep.

But keep it in moderation and try and give yourself a few alcohol free nights in the week so your body and mind can recuperate, repair, and refresh themselves.

Also, by using the other techniques in this article you won't need to use alcohol as a crutch to be able to relax.

So keep a keen eye on the stimulants you are consuming and don't allow them to affect your sleep.

5. Develop Good Sleeping Habits

Don't check your phone if you wake up during the night.

There are certain sleeping habits you can develop that will help you to maximise your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

So try and add a few of the following into your routine.​

Firstly it's important to keep regular sleeping hours.

This way your body gets trained in when it should be going to sleep and when it should be waking up.

So even at weekends, apart from the occasional lie-in, try and get up at a similar time.

But at the same time try not to go to bed unless you are feeling sleepy

As forcing yourself to go to bed when you are not ready will most likely just result in you laying there wide awake.

But by keeping regular hours your body clock should eventually cause you to feel sleepy at the right time.

Secondly, if you fail to fall asleep within 30 minutes of trying get up again.

Because lying in bed staring at the ceiling in frustration will only make you more stressed, which will leave you feeling more awake than ever.

So you'll be must better served by getting up and trying one of the activities that help you to relax such as reading for a bit.

And carry on with this until you feel sleepy then try again.

Thirdly, don’t clock watch!

As seeing how late/early it’s getting is just going to make you even more anxious about not being able to sleep.

Which will only make the problem worse.

So if there is a prominent clock in the bedroom try moving it to a position that’s out of sight.

And don’t lean over to check it!

Finally, and this is a big one, if you do wake up in the night DON'T CHECK YOUR PHONE!

This is a terrible habit that I think most of us have where the first thing we think of doing as soon as we wake up is to look at our phones.

Which is bad enough in the morning.

But in the middle of the night it can seriously hinder your chances of getting back to sleep.

Because your phone is powered by a blue light that triggers off all sorts of stimulation in your brain.

And even a few minutes of scrolling will result in your brain being wide awake and will make it much harder to get back to sleep.

So when waking up in the middle of the night get in to the habit of just turning over, closing your eyes and trying to drift back off again.

Don’t check the time. Don’t check your phone. Don’t worry!

And by sticking to these rules you are giving yourself the best chance of being able to fall asleep and maintain that sleep throughout the night.

6. Get A Mattress That Is Both Comfortable & Supportive

Getting the right mattress can make all the difference.

Choosing the right mattress for your back doesn’t just increase your chances of getting a decent night’s sleep. 

It can also help to eliminate your back pain.​

As sleeping on the wrong kind of mattress can throw your back out of alignment, increase the pressure on your body, and cause you pain.

And when you consider you spend a third of your life in bed this is a serious cause for concern!

The scientists agree.​

As in a survey of orthopaedic surgeons 95% of them believed that the type of mattress used played a big part in how well people managed their chronic back pain.

Pretty conclusive I think.

So for people with persistent back pain it's vital that you find a suitable mattress.

As it will help you to cope with your pain, sleep more comfortably, and greatly improve your quality of life.

However, choosing the right mattress can be a confusing experience.

So I've written an article to help you do this which you can find by clicking here.

7. Change How You Think About Sleep

Changing how you think about insomnia can help you to beat it.

Problems with sleep are not just caused by your behaviours or your pain, they can also be caused and maintained by how you think about sleep.

As people with insomnia can hold negative thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs about being unable to sleep.

Which is only logical right?

I mean it’s hard to be positive about something you have a problem doing.

However, these thoughts only serve to make you anxious and frustrated, which in turn makes it even harder to sleep.

For instance, research by the University of Warwick has found that chronic conditions such as back pain are directly linked with people having these negative thoughts about insomnia and their pain.

And that people that believed they wouldn't be able to sleep because of their pain were more likely to suffer from insomnia.

So when treating insomnia you also need to examine what is going on in your mind.

Now this isn’t easy to do.

But there are certain methods you can try to achieve this.

One such method is called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (or CBTi for short).

And this has been found to be a very effective method for between 70-80% of insomnia patients.

So how does CBTi work?

It’s all about identifying your negative thoughts, challenging and disproving them using evidence and experience, and then reframing them in a more positive and accurate way.

Doing this will give you a far more positive attitude towards sleeping and make it much easier for you to relax in both body and mind and get a good night's sleep.

Click here to find out more about CBT for insomnia.

8. Try To Sleep In The Best Position For Your Back

best pillows for restless sleepers

Now it can be difficult to control the position you end up in while you are sleeping.

But if you can train yourself to sleep in certain positions then it can really help to reduce your back pain and allow you to sleep more comfortably.

This is because some positions are better than others at keeping your spine in alignment.

And sleeping with a good posture that keeps you in alignment throughout the night greatly reduces any pressure and strain on your body.

The best ones for this are sleeping on your back and sleeping on your side in a foetal position.

However, the good news is that you can use pillows to keep you in alignment no matter what position you prefer to sleep in.

  • Back sleepers - use a medium loft pillow for your head, a wedge pillow under your knees, and if needed a flat pillow under your lower back.
  • Side sleepers - use a high loft pillow for your head and an orthopedic pillow between your knees.
  • Stomach sleepers - use a low loft flat pillow for your head and also place one of these under your pelvis.

This will help to reduce any back pain and discomfort you feel during the night and make it much easier for you to get a good night's sleep. 

Click here to find out more about the best pillows for people with back pain.

Rounding Up

I’m sure that you now have a good understanding of why a good night’s sleep is so important.

As it helps to repair, heal and regenerate your mind, body and soul. 

However, when it is disrupted it can cause a multitude of health problems and lower your overall quality of life.

And this is something we need to address.

As sleep disorders are increasingly common today, especially among those of us who suffer from persistent back pain.

And there are many ways can treat your insomnia such as:

  • Using sleep medication.
  • Turning your bedroom into the perfect environment for sleeping.
  • Relaxing your mind and body in preparation for sleep.
  • Limiting artificial stimulants.
  • Developing good sleeping habits.
  • Making sure you are using the best mattress for your back pain.
  • Challenging your negative thinking around sleep and pain.
  • Sleeping in the best position and using pillows to keep you in alignment.

So I hope that you have found some things you can take on and add to your lifestyle that will help you to overcome your sleeping difficulties.

After all we all deserve a good night’s sleep.

Let me know how you get on in the comments box below.

Share here!


I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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