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Poor Sleep and Back Pain –  Are they Connected?

How did you sleep last night?  Let’s ask your back –  

Are you struggling with back pain and find that getting a good night’s sleep is a major challenge no matter what you try?

It’s an incredibly frustrating experience that can lead to tiredness and exhaustion during the day, resulting in poor focus and concentration at work and in your daily tasks around the house.

For some of our patients, it can even cause them to stop exercising, running errands or even looking after their grandchildren for the day.

Back pain is an elusive beast… It can strike at any moment and can often leave us feeling debilitated for weeks, months, or even years if nothing is done about it. 

In fact, back pain is so widespread it’s now considered one of the most common issues around the globe. What’s truly interesting is that, while so many people suffer from back pain in one form or another, no pain is similar. Yet, while no individual is the same, one thing may very well be a common denominator in all cases: poor quality and quantity of sleep. 

Back pain can cause you to have a poor night’s sleep and a poor night’s sleep could be the cause of your back pain. 

Yes, that’s right. 

Poor sleep may in fact directly contribute to back pain in various ways.  How is that possible?  Read on to learn more about the importance of sleep and what you can do to help ensure you get a proper night’s sleep starting tonight.  

Why is sleep so important? 

Well, during the hours of sleep our bodies have a chance to heal and to re energize – muscles, nerves, and joints all have time to reset and take some time to regroup. Sleep regulates blood pressure, mood, alertness, brain responses, immune system responses, weight control, and so much more. And for these reasons, it’s clear that a lack of sleep may adversely affect you… not least when it comes to back pain.

But why is a lack of sleep particularly bad when it comes to back pain? Well, as mentioned, sleeping hours give the body a chance to recover from the exertions from the day before: muscles relax, blood flow is regulated, and the immune system is given an opportunity to see to any nagging issues that are present. If sleep quality and quantity is disrupted, therefore, the body is unable to do many – if any – of those things, and your tissues, joints, muscles, and nerves are neglected. Because the back and spinal cord are the veritable epicenter of your nervous system for the majority of your body, it stands to reason that a lack of sleep will eventually culminate in back pain – the body has a unique way of centralizing stress placed on it in the back,  especially when over tired.

In addition, being tired means you’re less aware of your posture and movements, thereby constantly placing your back in vulnerable and compromising positions. You may be unaware of the way in which you’re walking, sitting, or carrying heavy objects. You may also not be particularly aware of twisting in the spine or pressure placed on it in the form of carrying a backpack, for example. Mental alertness – gained from a good night’s sleep – will help you make positive decisions for your back. The opposite is true if you’re tired and fatigued.

And let’s face it: back pain is very rarely centralized – over time, your back pain may very well turn into neck, shoulder, or even hip pain… not to mention headaches! It’s an ongoing, often debilitating cycle… all of which is facilitated by poor quality sleep.

5 Ways to Improve Sleep while Reducing Back Pain  

So, what can be done? The first thing to do is to take a serious look at precisely why you are getting subpar sleep.. You ought to aim for a good 8 hours of sleep so as to reap the most benefits possible. If you’re falling short of this, try thinking about the following:

Are you stretching enough?

Stretching before bed can make all the difference: from lubricating your joints to easing the pent-up stress in your muscles, a good bedtime stretch routine is essential for a good night’s rest.

Do you have the proper pillow?

Ensure that your pillow supports your neck and spinal cord correctly – if you’re unsure, please reach out to a physical therapist for help and information.

Are you sleeping in the correct position?

Sleeping On Your Back

If you sleep on your back, this is a great sleeping position as it evenly distributes your body wide across the widest area, and therefore puts less pressure on specific points.

To improve this sleeping position, place a pillow underneath your knees, which will help keep a natural curve in your lower back. You can also place a rolled-up towel under the small of your back too for added support.

This will ensure that your spine remains in alignment when you are sleeping on your back.

Sleeping On Your Front

This is usually the worst position for back pain as it puts additional pressure on your neck and back.  If you are unable to find relief by sleeping on your side or back then place a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen which will relieve some of the pressure on your lower back.

Depending on your preference, you might find it more comfortable to lay without resting your head on a pillow.

Sleeping On Your Side

If you sleep on your side, there are a couple of options that can help you sleep without back pain.

The first option is to sleep on your side in the fetal position, with your knees towards your chest and your torso slightly curled towards your knees.

The second option is to sleep with your left or right shoulder in contact with the mattress, along with the rest of that side of your body, and with a pillow between your knees.

With both of these options, your neck pillow should sit between the top of your shoulder and your head, so that your neck is in a neutral position.

An important thing to remember with side sleeping is to alternate which side you sleep on to avoid creating any muscular imbalances.

Another important thing to remember is that sleeping on your side alone won’t reduce back pain. It’s using the pillow between your knees that makes the big difference, as the pillow will keep your hips, your pelvis, and your spine in better alignment.

In the following video, Dr. Megan demonstrates how sleeping with a pillow or two can help relieve your back pain and improve your overall sleep. 

What’s your bedtime routine like?

Ensure that the hour or so before bed is dominated by a healthful routine: read a book, drink some herbal tea, listen to some music, or meditate. Avoid screens of all kinds (TV, cellphone, tablets) for at least an hour leading up to bedtime. The blue light emitted from these devices can make it difficult to fall asleep. – Establishing a bedtime routine that encourages relaxing and winding down will prime your body for sleep.

Are you drinking enough water?

Avoid stiffness and aches by drinking enough water throughout the day: dehydration can cause disturbed sleep, while an increase in blood pressure caused by a lack of water may very well add to your back pain in the long run.

Are you dealing with your stress?

Stress can and will affect your sleep quality and quantity if you let it: be sure to meditate, practice yoga, walk, or read so as to relieve some of the stress of the day. Never take your stress to bed.

Don’t Let Sleep Be The Cause of your Back Pain 

Back pain can spell the end of a successful training routine, the beginning of bad moods, and the potential disruption to your activities with family and friends. It’s absolutely vital that you find the root cause of your back pain so as to start getting back to the things you love like walking the dog, pickleball, running errands and playing with the grandkids. 

One way to do this is to take a good look at your sleep patterns. Physical therapy is a fantastic option if you’re ready to get to the bottom of your sleep problems and back pain. By finding and treating the root cause, assessing your sleeping patterns, giving you exercises and stretches to do at home, and advising you on the best sleep-posture and bedtime routine for you, physical therapy will make all the difference. If you’ve not considered physical therapy, now’s your chance!

Don’t let a bad night’s sleep steal one more day from you. For more information and for advice on how we can help you with your sleep and back pain, why not contact one of our professional, friendly physical therapists right now? 

Schedule your FREE 15-min Phone Consult with one of our Back Pain Experts – We look forward to hearing from you!

For more expert advice, read our other blogs or check out our YouTube channel, Instagram and Facebook pages.:

Read more about back pain on our blog page

Read more about sleep in our blog page

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Doctors Jereme and Sarah Trunk

Balance Within Integrative Physical Therapy

We Help People Looking For Physical Therapy In Delafield & Beyond Find LASTING Solutions to Aches & Pains NATURALLY… So They Can Get Back to the Active Lifestyle They Want
(...without unnecessary medications or surgeries)

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