5 ways to get proper sleep when you have chronic back pain

When your day starts with a yelp of pain instead of a yawn, it's time to make some changes to your sleep routine.
When your day starts with a yelp of pain instead of a yawn, it's time to make some changes to your sleep routine.

Back pain can have many causes, like injury or a more serious underlying condition. The pain can range from acute to chronic, and whether it affects your lower or upper back, it can seriously mess with your sleep.

Back pain can make it challenging to get enough sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people who have some form of chronic pain clock in on average 42 minutes less sleep than they need, and only 37% enjoy good quality sleep.

So, if pain is interfering with your sleep, what can you do?

1. Rethink your sleeping position

Back pain can be caused by a bad posture and other factors such as awkward sleeping positions. Whether your back is the basic problem, or your sleeping position making your back hurt (a vicious cycle), there are some remedies that may help.

  • Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees to help keep your hips, pelvis and spine aligned.
  • If you prefer sleeping on your stomach, place a pillow under your abdomen to relieve some of the pressure on your head.
  • If you prefer sleeping on your back, place a pillow under your knees to evenly distribute your weight.

Remember, no matter your sleeping position, good alignment and even pressure are key to a proper posture.

2. Time to go mattress shopping

Your mattress plays a huge part in getting quality sleep and helping to prevent backache. Doctors used to recommend the firmest possible orthopaedic mattress for people with lower backache, but surveys reported by Harvard Medical School have shown that hard mattresses don’t always help people to sleep better. On the other side of the spectrum, a mattress that is too soft may aggravate back pain as it interferes with your alignment.

Do your research carefully when shopping for a new mattress to avoid problems. Some stores will even allow you to return the mattress if you aren't fully satisfied.

3. Reduce inflammation with good old home remedies

Apply an ice pack to the location of the backache before you hit the hay to help reduce inflammation and swelling, and to relieve pain.

Warmth and heat can also help relieve the pain and make you more comfortable. Heat therapy dilates the blood vessels of the muscles surrounding the lumbar spine, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to get to the muscles to speed up healing. Use a heat pack or a hot water bottle.

4. Choose the right type of pain reliever for you

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can reduce muscle and joint inflammation, and thereby help treat back pain. They’re available in tablet form, but also as gels, sprays and plasters that can be applied directly to the affected area.

There have been studies to determine the effect of NSAIDs on quality of sleep, but results were statistically insignificant. NSAIDs can also affect individuals differently and have side-effects such as nausea, which can make you uncomfortable. Discuss any side-effects with your doctor or pharmacist and never take these drugs on an empty stomach.

5. Practice good sleep hygiene

Like for any sleep disorder, proper sleep hygiene is recommended: Stick to a proper routine; cut down on your caffeine or alcohol consumption before bedtime; and avoid stimulation or excess screen time right before going to bed.

Image credit: iStock

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