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Why A Good Night's Sleep Is So Important For Your Back - And How To Get It

Sleeping well allows your body to rest, heal, and repair during the night, rather than waking up full of aches and pains in the morning.  

Why A Good Night's Sleep Is So Important For Your Back

Sleep should be a blissful time and something to be savoured.

However, for people with back pain it can be hard to come by, with one study showing as many as 78% of patients with chronic back pain were suffering from a sleep disorder.

And this lack of sleep can be really harmful for the health of your back.

As sleep is a time when the mind and body can relax, heal, and regenerate from the days stresses, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to go again in the morning.

However, when your muscles don't get the rest they need they can't do this.

Which means you wake up with those familiar nagging aches and pains that make your mornings a misery.

So, it's really important that you make sleeping well a priority if you want to get rid of your back pain.

And there are 3 ways you can do this.

  • Working on staying in a healthy alignment as you sleep.
  • Choosing the right mattress, pillows and a healthy sleeping position.
  • Developing good sleeping habits and practices.

Why Maintaining A Good Alignment Is Crucial

Maintaining a good posture throughout the day is vital for keeping your back healthy and pain free.

As this keeps you well balanced, spreads pressure evenly across your body, and means you're able to withstand the force of gravity without straining yourself. 

However, your job isn't done once your head hits the pillow.

As you still need to make sure your sleeping posture is right so your neck and spine stay in alignment as you sleep.

Because this allows your muscles to relax and get the rest they need to heal, stay healthy, and function well the next day.

However, when you sleep in a position that pulls your body out of alignment the opposite happens.

As this places extra pressure and strain on your muscles and joints, which means they stay active and can't relax and recover.

And the discomfort also keeps you up at night, meaning your sleep quality suffers as a result.

So, morning back pain can become a regular occurrence if you're not careful about your sleeping posture and spinal alignment.

Sleep On A Supportive & Comfortable Mattress

One of the biggest culprits of causing you to fall out of alignment as you sleep is when you sleep on an inadequate mattress.

Because if your mattress is too soft then your body will sink too far into it, which will throw your neck, spine, and hips into the wrong position.

However, sleeping on a mattress that is too firm isn't any good either.

Because this will put too much pressure on your body, especially in the hip and shoulder areas, causing you to tense up rather than relax.

And this will make it really hard to get into a deep and restorative sleep.

So, you need to look for a medium-firm mattress that hits the sweet spot of the ideal mix between comfort and support.

As this will give you the cushioning you need to relax, relieve pressure, and get comfortable enough to sleep deeply.

But will also be supportive enough to push back against your body weight and keep you in a well aligned and balanced position.

Which will make a big difference to how your back feels when you wake up.

And if you want proof of how important sleeping on the right mattress is for people with back pain, then check out this survey of orthopedic surgeons.

As 95% of those questioned felt that the mattress their patients used played a big part in how well they managed their back pain.

And they should know, right?

Click here to discover which mattresses I recommend for people with back pain.

How To Choose A Good Mattress For Your Back

Knowing you need to upgrade or replace your mattress to get a healthier night's sleep for your back is one thing.

But choosing which one to go for is another thing completely.

As there are so many options out there, from different brands, different fillings, different materials, and different feels.

It can be confusing to say the least.

And there's no definitive right answer, as the best mattress for back pain will depend on the individual person.

But to narrow your search down a bit, look for the following types of mattress as these can all be good for your back. 

  • Memory foam mattresses - these are great for relieving pressure on your body and are super comfortable to sleep on.
  • Latex mattresses - these mattresses also relieve pressure but are more supportive and push back more than memory foam.
  • Spring, pocket spring, or coil mattresses - these mattresses are my personal favourite and are great for support and maintaining a healthy alignment.
  • Hybrid mattresses - these contain a combination of memory foams, latex, and pocket springs, which could potentially give you the best of all worlds.

So, it's a good idea to find out which is the best choice for you from these different mattress types and then look for a specific one within that style.

And some other good practices when investing in a new mattress are:

  • Try before you buy - choose a mattress with a 100-day free trial so you can return it if it doesn't suit you.
  • Make sure it sleeps cool - get a breathable mattress as there's nothing worse than feeling hot and sweaty in bed.
  • Don't let it get too old - even the best mattress will lose it's lustre over time, so aim to replace yours every 6-8 years.

Use A Mattress Topper For More Comfort & Support

Upgrading and replacing an old and ineffective mattress is a great thing to do, but it can also be really expensive.

And while I'd still suggest you bite the bullet (as it's a long-term investment in your health after all), there is another way of adding comfort and support to your existing mattress, and that is with a mattress topper.

As depending on which type of topper you go for, it can make a soft mattress firmer and more supportive, or a firm mattress more comfortable and forgiving.

This can really help you to relieve pressure and stay in alignment as you sleep.

And the two best choices for people with back pain are latex and memory foam mattress toppers.

Latex or memory foam?

Whether you go for a latex or memory foam mattress topper depends on if you need to soften or firm up your current mattress.

So, a latex mattress topper is the best option if your mattress is too soft.

As this will provide the push back and support to keep you in alignment that you may be currently lacking.

However, if you mattress is too firm then go for a memory foam mattress topper instead.

As this will add the extra comfort and cushioning you need to relieve the pressure on your joints as you sleep.

Click here to read more about the differences between latex and memory foam.

Use The Right Pillows To Stay In Alignment

Another reason that people fall out of alignment during the night is when they use the wrong pillow.

Because to keep your neck and spine nicely aligned you need to use the right type of head pillow that suits your preferred sleeping position.

As depending on how you sleep, your head will need to be at different heights and have differing levels of support.

So, use the following as a guideline: 

  • Back sleepers require a pillow with a medium loft and a medium firmness to support their heads at the right height.
  • Side sleepers need a higher loft pillow and also a firmer one, as this will stop their heads from sinking too low.
  • Stomach sleepers should aim for a soft, flat pillow that allows their head to sink right in.

And once you've got your head and neck sorted out, it's time to start looking at your body.

Because adding a few strategically placed pillows at various points can keep your hips, shoulders and spine in the right position to minimise any pressure as you sleep.

And once again this depends on your preferred sleeping position.

So, a wedge pillow under the knees helps a back sleeper to flatten the arch in their spine, relieving any unnecessary pressure.

While a firm pillow between the knees will keep a side sleepers hips, pelvis, and spine in a neutral position which reduces any strain on the joints.

And a soft flat pillow beneath the pelvis will stop a stomach sleepers back from flattening out, keeping their spine in a natural alignment.

Click here to read more about which pillows to use to avoid back pain. 

What Is The Best Sleeping Position For Your Back?

Now most of us will already have a favoured sleeping position and this can be hard to change.

However, it might be in your interest to do so.

As certain positions are healthier than others for your back, as they keep your spine in better alignment and put it under less pressure and strain.

For instance, sleeping on your back is probably the best choice as this keeps your neck and spine perfectly straight and distributes pressure evenly across your body.

However, your back can also flatten out in this position, which can cause strain.

While sleeping on your side in a fetal position can cause some alignment issues in your hips, but is good for decompressing your vertebrae.

But one position you might want to avoid if possible is sleeping on your stomach.

As this one throws your neck and spine out of a neutral position, causing extra pressure and strain on your body.

And having to turn your neck to one side to breathe can easily cause a crick in it when you wake up in the morning.  

However, the good news is that if you follow the advice from the previous section about using body pillows to support your sleeping posture, you can turn any position into a healthy one for your back.

Things That Can Help You Overcome Insomnia And Sleep Like A Baby

Overcome insomnia

While regularly getting a good night's sleep is what you need to aim for to keep back pain at bay, this isn't the easiest thing for everyone.

As so many people struggle to get to sleep, or maintain it, whether they have back pain or not.

So, if you're one of the unlucky ones, what can you do to overcome this insomnia?

It's no easy process but there are a few things you can try to give yourself the best chance of sleeping well.

Work On Your Sleep Hygiene

Getting into good sleeping habits and changing the things you do in the lead up to bedtime can have a massive impact on your ability to sleep better.

Because so many of our daily habits could be contributing to our insomnia such as:

  • Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol.
  • Using our smartphones and laptops for too long and at the wrong times.
  • Being stressed out and anxious about work, finances, or family troubles.
  • Using our bedrooms as a lounging area.

The list could go on but you get the point, modern life can be detrimental to our ability to get a good night's sleep.

So, you need to be proactive in changing a few of these habits to ensure you can sleep easily when the time comes.

And this means sorting your sleep hygiene out.

So, have a go at incorporating the following rules into your daily routine which will all help you to switch off and get in the right state for sleep.

  • Remove all electronics from your bedroom and only go in there to sleep (or get funky!).
  • Also turn your bedroom into the perfect sleep environment by investing in some blackout blinds and keeping the temperature slightly cool.
  • Limit the amount of caffeinated drinks you have each day and don't drink any after early afternoon.
  • Don't use your smartphone or laptop in the 2-3 hours prior to going to bed.
  • Do something in the evenings which relaxes your mind such as reading or listening to soothing music.
  • Keep regular sleeping hours so your body clock automatically knows when it should be going to sleep and waking up.

These should all help you to get sleep in future.

However, if you need more help then read on.

Click here for 8 ways to improve your chances of sleeping well.

Yoga

Practicing yoga in the lead up to sleep is a great way of preparing yourself for success.

Because the controlled breathing and gentle stretches relax both your mind and body.

As it slows down your nervous system and brings you a sense of peace and calm.

And this is the ideal state to be in to be able to drift off into a deep and restful sleep.

So, give a bit of gentle yoga a try in the evenings and see if it helps you too.

Meditation

Meditating in the evenings is another good way of calming yourself down and getting into a relaxed state before bedtime.

As by focusing your mind and being present through meditation, you can let go of the days worries and stresses that may be running through your mind.

So, it a great way of ridding yourself of the stress and anxiety that can keep you awake at night.

And it'll also calm your nervous system and slow your heart rate, which will put you in a position to nod off as soon as your head hits the pillow.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This last one is going to take a bit more work and effort than the rest, but it might just be worth it.

Because how you think about sleep may be the thing that is making it hard to come by.

As holding negative thoughts and beliefs about your inability to sleep becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Because these negative thoughts leave you feel anxious and frustrated, which makes it even harder to relax enough to fall asleep.

So, one method you could try if you think you fall into this trap is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.

This is a therapy that has helped many people overcome insomnia by overcoming their negative ways of thinking.

And it works on the premise of:

  • Identifying and making note of the negative thoughts you are having surrounding sleep.
  • Challenging those thoughts with logic and reasoning to see how true they actually are.
  • Reframing them in a more positive and accurate way instead.

This can help to relax you, take away the stress, and make you more confident and likely to achieve the sleep you desire.

So, it's worth trying and has even been shown in some studies to be more effective for people with insomnia than taking sleeping pills!

Click here to learn more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.

The Many Health Benefits A Good Night's Sleep Will Bring

The many health benefits of good sleep

It's not just your back that will benefit from getting your sleeping game on point.

As being able to sleep well is the fundamental thing you need to do to maintain your overall health and well-being.

So, you can expect the following benefits from getting a good night's sleep on a regular basis:

  • It'll improve your overall physical condition and cut down on any aches and pains.
  • While also lowering your blood pressure, boosting your immune system, and giving you more energy.
  • It can improve your focus, concentration, and memory.
  • While calming your nervous system helps to regulate your emotions and keep you on an even keel.
  • And it's great for helping you to maintain a healthy sex drive too!

So, make sleep a priority.

As it's so important for your physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.

Rounding Up

Sleep doesn't always come easy when you suffer from back pain.

But you need to try and fix that as it could be the thing holding you back from getting over your pain.

So, work on your sleeping habits, invest in a high quality mattress and pillows, and be aware of your alignment and posture in bed.

And you can begin to feel the benefits that a good night's sleep can bring to your back and your overall health and well-being too.

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Daniel

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.