It’s no longer news that sleep is one of the most crucial biological processes for our health. Only a few short years ago, “sleep is for the weak!” echoed from the rooftops. Now, thanks to science, what maybe should’ve been common sense is now a fact: Sleep is for the strong.
Numerous studies have concluded that the losses in health and performance from poor quality or low-time sleeping far outweigh any benefit of having more time.
For those with lower back pain, however, the problem isn’t simply a matter of priority.
Rock meets hard place when the most important recovery process in our biology runs into one of the leading causes of disability that impacts 30% of Americans. This ain’t good, as sleep is actually one of our best defenses against pain, and a powerful recovery tool.
Here’s the rub: pain doesn’t have to be permanent, and by finding ways to mitigate its effect on sleep, you can improve not only your health and wellness, but also your pain itself.
LBP in a Nutshell and How to Sleep with Lower Back Pain
Our lumbar spine sits cradled in a net of sophisticated musculature designed to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, that musculature also faces the many chaotic demands of life, and sometimes our brain might perceive those components as a threat!
Poor movement patterns, acute injury, overuse, stress, and many other factors all play their part in the development of a painful lower back. While muscle strain and degenerative disc disease (DDD) are the leading causes of acute or chronic lower back pain (LBP), the reality is this is a multifaceted problem with many constituent influencers.
One of those influencers is sleep.
See where I’m headed? Sleep and pain have a bidirectional relationship. Poor sleep contributes to a greater chance for pain, and furthermore, exacerbation of existing pain. That same existing pain can also be one of the greatest factors in experiencing poor sleep.
For years, studies have linked LBP with sleep quality, so if we’re going to solve both of these issues, we need to find ways where the pain doesn’t as readily interfere with our sleep.
As follows are some simple and immediate techniques for improving sleep in the presence of lower back pain
These are the best ways to sleep when your lower back hurts.
4 Best Ways to Sleep With Lower Back Pain
1. Modify Sleep Position Using A Pillow
An immediate intervention for sleeping with lower back pain is to modify your position. This we know, and probably already do automatically, but adding a simple implement in the form of a pillow can really change the game.
- Side Sleeping With A Pillow Between Your Knees
Side sleeping is already a powerful tool for relieving lumbar pain. In an ideal scenario, this position limits potentially irritating flexion or extension, but we can upgrade it a step further by throwing in a pillow.
You see, when you put a pillow between your knees or thighs, you prevent the hips and pelvis from rotating. The pillow tends to help our body maintain a more neutral and supported shape during rest.
- Lying Flat on Your Back With a Pillow Underneath Your Knees
If side sleeping just ain’t your thing, putting a pillow under your knees can garner similar effects. Bent knees allow your spin to rest in a more neutral position, rather than being pulled into extension (arching.) People who are extension sensitive tend to feel better in this shape. You can also use low-lying rolled-up towels or therapeutic pillows on the lower back for extra reinforcement.
On another note, you may find efficacy in changing the firmness of your mattress entirely. Too-soft mattresses allow for a large amount of flexion and extension in your spine, whereas Medium-firm mattresses can provide more comfort and support to your lower back.
2 Increase non-exercise Fatigue AKA Get Your Steps In
A big big big reason people struggle with both sleep quality, and pain, is they just don’t move often enough. Increasing general locomotion is one of our frontline techniques for improving lower back pain outcomes, and it definitely contributes to sleep quality.
Max out steps as much as possible. Even if that means twenty one minute walks around your kitchen. Aim for 8-15k steps per day! This creates a dual effect of building up fatigue for sleep, and improving factors such as tissue congestion, lymphatic flow, and ameliorating the negative health effects of stagnation via movement. This truly kills two birds with one stone.
3 Drink Caffeine Before Noon & Limit Alcohol Intake
This is simple but well-worth addressing: Caffeine and alcohol. Look, I know we all love our booze and buzz, but if you’re having sleep and pain issues, these two pleasures might not be helping.
To prevent the cortisol-increasing effects of caffeine from affecting your sleep, make sure to delegate your coffee intake to before noon. It goes without saying but this includes your pre-workouts, teas, and all other stimulants.
With alcohol things are a bit more strict. Whatever amount of alcohol you are currently drinking, if you want to improve sleep and pain, drink less of it. Simultaneously, make sure to be hydrating properly with quality electrolytes such as sea salt or a quality electrolyte powder such as my friend Robb Wolf’s product LMNT.
4 Downregulate At The End of The Day (Mobilize For 20 to 30 Minutes)
Downregulation is a term we like to use for activating the parasympathetic nervous system and toning down the sympathetic nervous system. Translation, shifting out of fight-or-flight. My favorite way to do this? 20 to 30 minutes of tissue mashing after the work day.
For close to 3 months in 2020, I ran a live down regulation webinar from my living room called the downregulation series. It involved 30+ minutes of comprehensive tissue mashing. You can still find it in the “bonus” section of The Virtual Mobility Coach app, or you can opt for any of our 20 or 30 minute daily maintenance routines.
The point is simply to give your tissues some love and signal your body that it’s time to rest. If you’re in a pinch, one of the best tissue mobilizations for calming down and improving sleep is gut smashing.
You can grab a foam roller, a large ball, or do some targeted work with a lacrosse ball, and get after the abdominal tissues. Tight abdominal muscles are also an oft-overlooked component of back pain, so as ever, we’re going for the two-in-one intervention here.
Place a foam roller on the ground, and lay on top of it just below your ribs. Inhale and flex your abs, then exhale and try to melt over the roller like a piece of cheese melting over a wire. You can scrub the tissues back and forth, perform figure eights, or simply continue the inhale-exhale drill above. Take the roller all the way down to your hip bones, and if you so desire, beyond and into your pelvis.
Here are a few favorite Daily Maintenance routines for Downregulation and Lower Back Pain:
Seek Professional Help to Learn How to Sleep for Lower Back Pain Relief
Although some experts state those with acute LBP will not recover, or will eventually experience chronic pain, this may not be the case. We’ve helped thousands ameliorate lower back pain and even put it into remission using such tools as our lumbar pain protocol (which is also the most well-developed pain protocol we offer.)
If you’ve tried changing sleeping positions or fixing LBP on your own but get little to no extra comfort, it may be time for some deeper guidance. You can preview our protocol by reading our article: How to Fix Low Back Pain – The Ready State.
Get instructions from experts online to lead a more productive and pain-free life. Our groundbreaking Virtual Mobility Coach App will help you deal with pain, immobility, and other physical discomforts. Your VMC can hit you with the best way to sleep with low back pain. Start your free trial today.