Phil Lawlor, sleep expert from Dormeo, shares his expert advice on getting high-quality and restorative rest while dealing with back pain.
More than half of homeworkers have experienced new back aches or pains during the COVID-19 lockdown, according to preliminary results of a recent wellbeing survey. As more of us find ourselves hunched over laptops in makeshift home offices and spending more time sat in front of the TV, it’s little wonder that musculoskeletal problems are becoming a growing concern.
Back pain can have a negative impact on many parts of our lives, but especially sleep. Poor-quality sleep can also exacerbate the issue, leaving you in a vicious circle whereby back pain causes poor-quality sleep, and poor-quality sleep worsens back pain.
These tips should not only help you get to sleep — and stay asleep — while dealing with back pain, but potentially help you to alleviate some of the symptoms.
Sleep on your back
To reduce pressure on your spine and keep it properly aligned, you should try to sleep on your back. You could even place a rolled-up hand towel under the small of your back to provide lumbar support or put a pillow underneath your knees to reduce pressure on the hips.
If you want to lie on your side, place a pillow in-between your legs to help keep your spine straight from top to tail. It’s best to avoid sleeping on your front but, if you struggle to drift off otherwise, you can place a pillow between your stomach and pelvis to help alleviate some of the stress on your back.
Upgrade your mattress
The wrong mattress can worsen or even cause back pain, so if you’re already suffering from symptoms, it’s crucial to ensure you’re getting the support you need.
It can be tricky to know if your mattress is causing or contributing to back pain, but there are a few signs that you need to invest in a new one:
• Your mattress is more than seven years old (although memory foam mattresses tend to have a longer lifespan).
• Your mattress is noticeably uncomfortable.
• You’ve tried other mattresses and experienced better-quality sleep.
If you’re not sure whether a new mattress will help, you could always take advantage of a free mattress trial or try testing the waters with a mattress topper.
Typically, back pain sufferers will benefit from a medium-firm mattress or topper that provides support to the spine while alleviating pressure in the joints. Memory foam tends to be particularly effective, as it moulds to the unique shape of your body to provide support in every area, including the lower back.
Upgrade your pillow
The neck is an extension of your spine, so it’s only natural that your choice of pillow can contribute to back pain as well.
A flatter pillow tends to be the best option, because this will help to keep the vertebrae in your neck aligned with the rest of your spinal column. Memory foam is again a good choice, as it will cradle the unique shape of your head and neck in any sleeping position.
Start (and end) the day right
Back pain symptoms can be worse in the mornings, as a long period of inactivity takes its toll. To help get your body moving again, it’s a good idea to stretch before you get out of bed:
1. Lying on your back, gradually stretch out your fingertips and toes to make yourself as tall as possible.
2. Hug your knees to your chest and wrap your arms around them. You could also try gently rocking from side to side.
3. Keeping your shoulders flat, gently let your knees fall to one side and then the other.
These stretches should help you feel a little more supple before getting out of bed, but you might want to engage in a little more yoga after getting up. There are lots of great YouTube videos focussing specifically on back pain, such as this one from Yoga with Adriene.
Practising some light yoga before climbing into bed at night can also be a good idea, helping to relax muscles so that you drift off more easily. For the same reason, a gentle massage could be beneficial.
If back pain is disrupting your sleep, these tips should help you to enjoy higher-quality rest. However, if your symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, stop you from engaging in day-to-day activities, or are causing severe pain, you should book an appointment with your GP. See NHS guidance for more information.