How to sleep with back pain – Herniated disc or bulging disc

Best sleeping position with low back pain or herniated disc is not easy to figure out.
Getting a good night’s sleep will help you make it through the next day easier than if you don’t sleep well or sleep at all.
For me, sleeping with back pain from an herniated disc has been nearly impossible for 8 years.

For the first 4 years, I couldn’t sleep at all.
Well, I did sleep, a couple of hours used to wake up, then sleep another hour: it was just impossible, even with painkillers, to keep the same position for more than an hour.
Sleep on any side was too painful, sleep on my back? Impossible
Sleep on the stomach? Way too painful!

No matter the position, my back would always hurt, so, what’s the point?

We’ve all read of millions of things we should do to ease the pain when lying in bed:
How to get in bed with back pain, how to get out of bed with back pain, sleeping with a pillow between the legs, or sleeping with a pillow right under your knees if you sleep on your back.

Get the right pillow, get one of those expensive memory foam mattresses, sleep on a hard mattress, get an adjustable bed, don’t sleep on your stomach, sleep on a plank, sleep on the floor, buy a waterbed…

Preserving the natural curve of the spine

Every brand of mattress will advertise their product using this sentence, and this makes so much sense, doesn’t it ? How could one think of relieving their back pain by not having his spine correctly aligned while they sleep?

What if this is wrong?
What if, instead of sleeping on a flat surface, you slept on a surface that changes the balance of your body, changing the way the weight is distributed?

Let me show you how I sleep

My bed is made out of two mattresses: both are memory foam mattresses, that are supposed to relieve the pressure blah blah blah (this never worked for me).

The mattress on the left (which is a Tempur, by the way) is slightly higher than the one on the right: I didn’t do this on purpose: they are just part of my collection of mattresses (which I all bought hoping to be able to sleep well one day.)
I also bought a mattress topper, which also never worked for me: (this is an Octaspring topper, thus, not memory foam topper).One day, I had this intuition to turn it so that I would sleep with the upper part of my body (above the waist) on the higher side, and my pelvis and legs would be on the lower mattress.

And guess what? This works!

After endless years of being in pain in bed, I found the best sleeping position for low back pain and managed to sleep well all night, and just after a few nights, wake up back pain-free and being able to stay in bed as long as I want in the morning.

And this all makes sense, you know.It seems that when lying on a flat surface, the lower back and pelvis region take too much of the bodyweight (just like when you sit on a chair) and unless you move, you will be in pain.

With my setup, the upper part of the body takes most of the bodyweight: the lower back and pelvis region are relieved and will quickly recover, even if they have felt pain for years, apparently.

mattress topper
Rotating the mattress topper this way helps me sleep through the night

I should point out that the height difference between both mattresses is smoothed out by the fact that both are memory foam mattresses and thus it doesn’t hurt or feel uncomfortable at all.

No descent doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist would advise you to sleep like that, (which explains why the pain never goes away when sticking to the traditional methods), but to me, this is kind of a McKenzie method for when lying in bed.

If the traditional recommendations won’t work, why not try something new?

But wait, there's more!

Obviously, sleeping on a traditional flat surface = keep putting pressure right where it hurts.

So, I would get up in the morning feeling back pain, sit in the car with back pain, sit at my desk all day with back pain, get back in the car to go home with back pain, and go to bed with back pain: this went on for years.

As opposed to now, I wake-up pain-free, sit in the car pain-free and I swear the gods, sit at my desk all day pain-free, even though this has been a punishment for years.

Sleeping this way just seems to stop putting pressure right where it hurts: the natural healing power of the body just does the rest.

Best way to sleep with lower back pain: bottom line

Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with herniated discs and degenerative discs disease: trust me, I know what severe back pain means.
If you can’t sleep at night because of the constant pain in your back, try this setup.

You don’t need to buy expensive stuff: maybe you can achieve the same results with your regular mattress and some cheap garden beds mattresses to test it out.

Also, don’t test it for the whole night the first time: just try lying in bed an hour or two, and feel if it makes a difference before you spend the entire night.

Finally: remember you will be modifying the so-called natural curve of the spine, so make sure you have the right pillow(s). Do not create a second problem (watch for your neck) while trying to fix the first one.

If it doesn’t work, it’s just too bad: do not insist, do not try to fight the pain.

But if it does work, come back to this page, share it, and let us know..alignright

What's the best position to sleep for back pain

In this video, Posturedoc gives a couple of tips for the best sleeping positions and shows us how to use pillows to keep a good posture in bed, and also how to get out of bed safely.

Full body pillow goes a long way

body pillow
A good quality body pillow helps a lot when sleeping on a bad mattress

The best position for staying in bed when you suffer from a herniated disc or lower back pain can be found by using a full body pillow (also called U-shaped pillow or pregnancy pillow), like the ones used by pregnant women when staying in bed.
Especially if you sleep on a bad mattress.

I put part of the body pillow under my upper back/armpit/rib cage: this gives me excellent support to the shoulder, and somehow, it takes away some of the pressure in the lower back, and that is what I need to do for sleeping with a herniated disc.

If you’re going to buy a full body pillow, I recommend you get good quality: if it gets flat after a few weeks, it’ll be useless, and you’ll stop using it.
If you don’t want to buy a body cushion, you can still try to figure something out with a couple of regular pillows and use them as a very effective support for your shoulder / upper back.

Shop pregnancy pillow

Is sleeping on the floor suitable for back pain?

Sleeping on the floor to ease back pain is one of those questions for which the answer often differs from one person to another.
The truth is: when you have back pain due to a severe back condition, like a herniated disc, for example, the solution would be not to be lying anywhere; neither on the floor nor in your bed for that matter.
Try to picture that spot in your lower back that hurts all day & all night: well, when you’re lying down, what you do is apply more pressure on that spot than when you’re standing up: and the more the weight, the more pain you have.

Now, sleeping on the floor will make you apply even more pressure on that spot in your lower back: it will be like squeezing it, and there is no way that this is going to make you feel better.

Besides, when you have back pain, lying on your back will only make it worse (trust me I know), and you can’t sleep on your side when you’re sleeping on the floor because your shoulder (the one on the floor side) will kill you.

Sleep on a wood board?

thin wood board
Wood is cheap, and can be found anywhere. It won't break nor crack: it's a hard surface that offers good support in bed without hurting you.

There are some benefits to sleeping on a hard surface and it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.
I do that sometimes. I use a thin wood board that I put under my rib cage / upper back area and it kind of works. You may want to try this if you suffer from degenerative disc disease.

But it has to be a flexible & very thin wooden board and the right thing with MDF wood is that it offers support, but it doesn’t hurt.
Every other wood type I’ve tried is like sleeping on the floor: just impossible.
I like the feeling of a hard surface under my shoulders & shoulder blades when I’m in bed.

By the way, this thiny wooden board is also a life saver to avoid back pain when driving.

Problems falling asleep

For many people with a bad back condition such as herniated disc or degenerative disc disease, early morning is the worst moment of the day.

Instead of feeling rested from good night sleep, they feel fatigued after another sleepless night.

Serious back pain makes it so hard to sleep, to fall asleep and to stay asleep.

Lying in bed with back pain is a very bad idea, but how else are you going to sleep?

Some people manage to sleep in a chair, but I don’t think sitting in a chair for hours is a good idea for people with herniated discs either.

During the day, many people with back pain use to keep themselves busy and avoid just sitting or lying on their back and do nothing else than feel the pain.

Interacting with other people, watching tv, focusing on something (whatever it is: art, work, music,…) is one way to manage chronic back pain but when the night comes, lying in bed…What can you focus on to reduce the pain level and fall asleep?

And there you go: can’t fall asleep. And the more it’s hard to fall asleep because of the pain, the more you’ll feel that pain.

If you’ve got a busy day the next day, you will need to feel rested and look fresh: how is that going to happen if you can’t sleep?

Back pain not only prevents you from falling asleep but it ads a new layer of stress that will make the pain worse and falling asleep still more of a problem.

Problems sleeping through the night

This is another issue that needs to be solved for a better life with chronic back pain.
Because the sleep level varies throughout the night, a person with a bad back can wake up from the pain when the sleep level is lower and have a hard time falling asleep again.

So what can you do besides the obvious that are known as factors that promote sleeping disorders (don’t drink too much coffee, don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, avoid stressing or physical activities before going to bed,…) ?

I have a TV in my bedroom and I listen to my favorites tv shows and series every night.
At this point, I know them by heart and I don’t need the image to enjoy the show: the sound is enough.
Most of the time, I fall asleep during the first show despite the pain and that makes my life so much easier.
And to put more chances on my side to sleep all night, I take a muscle relaxant one hour before going to sleep.

The fatigue from the past days does the rest and unless the pain in my neck or lower back when lying in bed is too sharp, I’m able to get a good night’s sleep most of the time.

Hope this helps you sleep with back pain

Cet article est également disponible en : French

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