Back pain: Best position to sleep in if you want to relieve symptoms

Back pain is aggravating at the best of times. Let alone when you’re trying to get some well-deserved shuteye. What’s the most comfortable position to sleep in to ease any pain?

According to Sleep Foundation, people who suffer from chronic pain get an average of 42 minutes less sleep each night than others.

Over time, that’s going to add up to a lot of lost sleeping hours.

In a week alone it’s nearly five hours and, for the whole year, that’s an average of 250 hours.


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No wonder back ache can make someone feel very grumpy.

Even for the limited amount of time they manage to fall asleep, only 37 percent of those with back pain report it as good quality.

So, not only are back pain sufferers getting less sleep, they’re not getting good quality sleep either.

Part of the reason for this negative cycle is that it can be uncomfortable to fall asleep when a body part is hurting.

The Sleep Foundation reports that lower back pain can lead to micro-arousals.

Micro-arousals cause the body to transition into a lighter sleep stage and briefly awaken.

This can happen on multiple occasions throughout the night, severely compromising your sleep quality.

What are the sleeping stages?

Sleep Foundation explain people alternate between NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in a 90-minute cycle.

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NREM accounts for 75 percent of sleep during one night.

NREM is comprised of four stages: N1, N2, N3 and N4.


N1 is the first stage of sleep, when people are falling asleep. It’s considered a light sleep.


N2 is when the onset of sleep begins. People are disengaged from their surroundings, their breathing and heart rate are regular and the body temperature drops.


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N3 and N4

N3 and N4 is the deepest and most restorative sleep, where blood pressure drops, breathing slows down and muscles relax.

This is when the body repairs tissues, the blood supply to muscles increases and energy is restored.

Afterwards, REM sleep takes place – which accounts for 25 percent of the sleep cycle per night.

On average, this occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep, and recurs every 90 minutes there after, getting longer later in the night.

This stage of sleep provides energy to the brain and body.

It’s also when dreams occur, the muscles become immobile and eyes dart back and forth in the eye socket.

So what’s the best position to fall asleep in to minimise micro-arousals, reduce pain and sleep for longer?

The answer is to sleep on your back. To make this position more comfortable, place a pillow under your knees to take the pressure off your spine.

You can also try to place a rolled-up towel, or another pillow, under the arch of your back for further support.

For those who are accustomed to sleeping on your side – if you find falling asleep on your back difficult – place a pillow in between your legs in this position.

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