How to Sleep Well with Spinal Pain

T’was the night before Christmas when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

So begins the classic Christmas poem of a visit from St Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore.

Many of us though, like the author would have also been awake to surprise “St Nick” not from spying “The Jolly old Elf “ but from neck and back pain.

Studies show that 50-80% of people with spinal pain report sleep disturbance.

In fact, most of these studies reveal a vicious cycle of pain affecting the quality of sleep making people more aware and susceptible to pain.

There are a variety of ways to break this cycle and promote better sleep.

5 tips to break the sleeping-pain cycle.

1.         Find your better sleep position/posture.
2.         Find your better pillow or bed.
3.         Maximize your spinal range of movement before going to bed.
4.         Lower your inflammatory reaction if your pain is acute.
5.         Ensure better postural habits during the day.

1.  Find your better sleep position/posture.

The best sleeping position should mimic your upright posture in standing. For best spinal alignment and decreased overnight strain of your spine, sleeping on your side or back is preferable.

Foetal position and lying on your stomach place the most significant stress on your spine overnight.

For low back pain a pillow under the knees when sleeping on your back reduces spinal strain overnight. A pillow between your legs when lying on your side also reduces spinal strain.

2.  Find your better pillow or bed.

A contoured pillow gives the best opportunity for the neck to maintain its inward (lordosis) curve that mimics the standing position. A feather or memory foam pillow provides the best ability to contour naturally to the neck.

A flatter pillow with a contour is recommended for back sleepers to prevent the head from bending in a prolonged position overnight.

A fuller pillow with a contour is recommended for side sleepers to prevent the head from tilting in a prolonged position overnight.

It is difficult and confusing to find the perfect bed. Obviously, a bed that sags, if it is too soft or creates pain in your hips, knees and shoulders, if it is too hard it is not the answer.

There is no point in getting the most technologically advanced bed with all the bells and whistles if you can’t sleep on it because it does not suit your spine.

My advice is when trialing a bed start with a firm base/mattress and work up and down from there. A firm mattress with a soft quilt overlay is often a good compromise for a good night’s sleep.


3.  Maximize your spinal range of movement before going to bed.

Just like stretching your joints & muscles before you play sport, some simple stretches of the neck and back before you sleep can help to minimize postural strain of a tight spine before bed.

Take a look at our website in the exercise video section.
Cervical & Thoracic Spine series. Exercise number 4.
Lumbar Spine series. Exercise number 1.

A spine that is more flexible before going to bed has less chance to tighten up and cause strain overnight. 



4.  Lower your inflammatory reaction if your pain is acute.

Inflammation causes pain by the build-up of fluid pressing on nerve endings. Inflammation can increase at rest. Lack of sleep also increases levels of inflammation in the body.

Ice is known to reduce inflammation. So, using ice before bed can help in reducing inflammation and pain overnight.

5.  Keeping better posture during the day will ensure less strain on injured tissues and provide better healing over the course of the day.

A good exercise to assist with this during the day can be seen on our website in the video section
Cervical & thoracic spine series. Exercise number 1 – Posture Correction.


With better posture, flexibility and healing during the day and more support from better pillows and a better bed, overnight can lead us, like ‘St Nick’ to exclaim “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

If you require assistance with sleep pain or need further information don’t hesitate to contact us via phone 9670 3996 or email.


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