How to Sleep with a Bad Back

The more you toss and turn, the more it hurts. But the more it hurts, the more you toss and turn! Learning how to sleep with back pain is the first step in improving your condition.

Back pain is incredibly common. It is estimated that four out of every five adults (80%) will experience back pain at some stage in their life.
We decided to consult one of our Back Care Experts, Gillian Smith, who is a qualified and experienced Chiropractor.

Gillian Smith Chiropractor

Gillian has helped people learn how to sleep with a bad back by improving their conditions and reducing their back pain over time.

Learning how to sleep with a bad back is a simple trial and error method.

Stretching, exercises and physiotherapy are a great way to improve the health of your spine and improve a bad back. However, considering the fact you may be losing sleep because of a bad back means exercise could still be painful for you.

So the first step is learning to how to sleep with a bad back to gradually improve the overall health of your spine. Then you can move onto more strenuous activity such as exercise and physiotherapy.


Sleeping Positions

Changing the position you sleep in is actually a very difficult thing to do. The position you sleep in is something that happens naturally over time. But learning how to support your back will provide a huge improvement in the long term.

The way you sleep has the biggest impact on back pain. But the important thing to remember is that you can actually arrange your bed, mattress and pillows to offer you the most comfortable sleeping position.

Although not many people adopt this position, sleeping on your front can stress the neck and may cause stiffness on waking and misalignments in the vertebrae in your spine.

If you are going to sleep this way, ensure your pillow allows you to keep your spine neutral and correctly supported. If your pillows are high and your mattress sags, this will curve your spine and may lead to a very bad back.

One of the most comfortable ways to support sleeping on your back, is to place a pillow under the knees as it relaxes the back and muscles around your spine.

Sleeping in this position is a great way to improve a bad back because;

  • Your spine is lengthened
  • Your shoulders are relaxed
  • Your rib cage is free to expand
  • Your muscles and lengthened and relaxed


If you do suffer from back pain in this position, it can sometimes be hard to roll over or get in and out of bed. If it’s painful to move around in bed then side sleeping is a good way to ensure you can remain mobile.

back pain when sleeping

As you can see from the illustration, this is where your pillows and mattress can play a huge role in learning how to sleep with a bad back and improve your conditions.

A pillow between the knees will prevent the spine and pelvis from twisting. If you have a nice big duvet you can also put this between your legs if its more comfortable.

Working together, your mattress and pillows allow your spine to stay aligned. Most people just head for a firm mattress and think that will improve a back condition. The fact is everyone’s different and some mattress and pillow conditions are better for others.

If you are a side sleeper, the illustration below shows that your body weight and shoulder width actually play a big role in aligning your spine.

Heavy stature = bigger curve in the mattress

Wider shoulders = bigger curve in the neck

how to sleep with a bad back

Naturally if you are heavier set, a firmer mattress will suit you better. Heavier people tend to have wider shoulders so a higher pillow will also support this. A mattress won’t support a 16 stone person the same as a 10 stone person.

The most important rule is to speak to someone who knows what they are talking about. If you can’t make it it to our showroom then you can call Victoria our bed specialist and ask for her advice. Like all our staff, Victoria is a Sleep Council Sales Academy Accredited Advisor.


Selecting your Mattress and Pillow Combination

Looking at the above image should illustrate that the heavier you are, the more your mattress will curve in the middle. So as a rule of thumb, heavier set people should have a firmer mattress.

Your pillow or pillows need to support your neck as well as your mattress supports your back. Your pillows need to help your neck align with your spine. There is only one way to make sure this happens…

Take your pillow with you when choosing your mattress.

We know it might seem silly, but it makes perfect sense.

The other alternative is to buy your pillows at the same time as your mattress.

Key Takeaways;

  • Learning how to sleep with a bad back and improve your condition starts with getting your sleeping position correct.
  • Your mattress and pillow combination is essential to get a better sleeping position. It must be unique to your stature and condition.
  • You should be working towards exercise and physiotherapy as a means of improving a bad back.
  • Make sure you take time to find the best mattress for a bad back.

Back Care Experts

back care experts

1 Reply to "How to Sleep with a Bad Back"

  • comment-avatar
    lara koski 17th November 2014 (9:37 pm)

    I’m mid-sixties, looking for a side-opening, ottoman storage bed with ortho mattress. Any suggestions?

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