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Sleep and Spine Health: Best Practices for a Pain-Free Night

By June 6, 2024June 24th, 2024No Comments

Are you waking up with a sore back or neck? Muscle knots in your shoulders or back? If so, you may be interested to know that the way you sleep can affect how your spine feels throughout the day. From choosing the right mattress and pillows to adopting optimal sleeping positions, your spine medicine doctors at Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island want to help you keep your spine healthy and pain-free — so you can enjoy the best quality of life when you’re awake!

Here, we offer tips and tricks for a happier spine by sharing how to keep your spine neutral when sleeping and avoiding neck pain from sleeping with the best nighttime positions and bedding for you.

Back Sleeping

First, finding the best sleeping position is crucial for spinal health. Are you naturally a back sleeper? If so, good news — sleeping on your back is generally considered the best sleeping position for avoiding lower back or neck pain. Sleeping on your back can go a long way in helping evenly distribute your weight and maintain a neutral spine when you’re resting.

For optimum comfort, try placing a pillow under your knees to reduce pressure on your lower back, relax your back muscles, and retain the natural curve of your lower back. You could also try several pillows or a small, rolled-up towel or bolster pillow under your knees for a bit more height. And don’t forget your neck: the right pillow to support your neck keeps your neck in alignment with your chest and back.

One caution about back sleeping, however: if you’re pregnant, opt for side sleeping on your left side, perhaps with a pregnancy pillow. Back sleeping during pregnancy is known to reduce blood flow to your heart and baby and be quite uncomfortable into the 3rd trimester.

Side Sleeping

The next best position when you’re wondering how to decompress your spine when sleeping? Laying on your side. The trick to keeping a neutral spine when side sleeping and avoiding back pain is bending your legs only slightly, and placing a pillow between your knees. The pillow helps align your hips, pelvis, and spine and creates room for your spinal nerves. You might also want to consider using a small cushion under your waist which can help maintain spine alignment between your ribs and pelvis.

Now, how about sleeping with really bent knees, like in the fetal position? It’s less ideal, but if you prefer this position, place a pillow between your knees. If possible, try training yourself to straighten your legs and align your head.

And which side is better to sleep on? For most people, it doesn’t make a difference. But if you have sciatica, avoid sleeping on the side with sciatica pain.

And pillows for side sleeping? To avoid neck pain, choose a pillow that raises your head only slightly and allows your shoulders to stay in alignment.

Avoid Stomach Sleeping

Most spine experts agree that sleeping on your stomach is the least healthy way to sleep for spinal alignment. Stomach sleeping puts pressure on your spine’s muscles and causes misalignment of your neck and spine. Plus, your head has to turn to the side, and you could be twisting or bending your spine in this position. This can lead to neck, upper, and lower spine pain when sleeping.

However, if you must sleep on your stomach, how do you keep a neutral spine? We recommend placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen to support your spine and help it stay aligned.

The Best Mattress for Avoiding Back Pain: Firm or Soft?

Just as sleep position affects your spine health, so does choosing the right mattress. But what kind of mattress is best? Is a firm mattress better for your back? Simply put, yes. If you’re looking for a new mattress to avoid back pain, a good place to start is a firm one that can offer a balance of support and comfort. A mattress on the firm side helps maintain a neutral spine position. However, your mattress shouldn’t be too hard, as excessive firmness can cause pressure points and discomfort.

Pillow Choices for Neck and Back Health

Once you’ve selected the best mattress for alleviating your back pain, how about pillows for your head? To avoid neck pain from sleeping, choose a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck. A pillow that’s too high or too low can cause misalignment. Aim for a pillow that allows your head to stay level with your spine.

What about the number of pillows? Is sleeping with two pillows bad for your neck? The bottom line is to find the pillow setup that supports your neck and keeps your spine aligned. You might find two flatter pillows or one loftier pillow feel comfortable and keep your neck and spine aligned. Or a small roll-type pillow (or hand towel) under your neck paired with a regular-sized pillow might work so you don’t get neck pain from sleeping. It might take a few tries to find the pillow or combination of pillows that works for you.

Still Experiencing Back and Neck Pain When Sleeping?

But what if you’ve made all the changes to your sleep practice and you’re still experiencing back or neck pain? Your Garden City and Ronkonkoma spine specialists are here to help get to the bottom of your chronic back or neck pain and help you get started on lasting relief. We take a minimally invasive approach when possible, with personalized attention and treatment to restore your spine health.

Schedule a consultation at Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island today with Dr. Choi, Dr. Toombs, or Dr. Argyriou. Teleheatlh appointments are available as well.

Dr. Daniel Choi

Author Dr. Daniel Choi

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