Is Your Sleep Position Causing You Back Pain?
Lying down and positioning pillows to support the spine can lead to a much better night’s sleep. A physical therapist explains.
We don’t often think about our spines when we’re lying in bed. But our sleep posture can help determine whether or not we experience back pain. So when you turn in for the night, remember these tips from physical therapist Marleen Caldwell, PT, MS, Cred MDT:
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Choose a well-made innerspring or foam mattress, or add a foam mattress topper to your innerspring mattress for additional support. You can also alter your sleep position or use pillows to keep your spine neutral.
The best position for sleeping is on your back. The worst position for sleeping is on your stomach due to the unnatural position of your neck. Sleeping on your back evenly distributes weight across the widest surface of your body, minimizing pressure points and ensuring proper alignment of your internal organs.
Some evidence suggests that habitually sleeping on one side on an ill-fitting mattress may contribute to muscle imbalance, pain, and in some cases, scoliosis. Always sleeping on the same side suspends the middle of your body between your hips and shoulders, the broadest parts of the trunk. Place a pillow between your knees as shown below to keep hips, pelvis and spine aligned.
Whichever sleep position you choose, position your pillow beneath your head and neck, and not your shoulders. If you sleep on your back, make sure the pillow fills the space between your neck and the mattress to maintain your head in neutral position, as illustrated below. If you sleep on your side, use a thicker pillow, also shown below.
If your hips are wider than your waist, a softer mattress can accommodate the width of your pelvis and allow your spine to remain neutral, as shown below. If your hips and waist are in a relatively straight line, a more rigid surface offers better support.