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image of woman in child's pose to prevent back pain

The Best Daily Habits to Prevent Back Pain While You Sleep

Among the many things that can keep someone from falling or staying asleep—too much noise, unwanted light, a partner’s snoring— back pain ranks high on the list. If you suffer from back pain, every shift, movement, toss, or turn can cause or exacerbate discomfort. Needless to say, that can really get in the way of a good night’s rest.

According to a study published in The Clinical Journal of Pain, for example, approximately 50% of participants with chronic low back pain experienced poor sleep.

What causes back pain during sleep?

Kaliq Chang, MD, a spine and neck interventional pain management specialist at Atlantic Spine Center, explains why back pain can be worse at night: “When patients are locked in one position for hours, the stress on the spine can cause pain that normally wouldn’t occur during the day,” he says.

Although a variety of things—including excessive bending at the waist, lifting heavy objects, twisting, and sitting for long periods—can cause back pain, the basic biology is all the same.

“Back pain is due to inflammation of the muscles and soft tissues in and around the spine, most likely due to injury to the intervertebral discs or other soft tissue components within the spine,” says Chang.

Luckily, there are ways to combat a painful back throughout the day before your head ever hits the pillow. Here are steps you can take to reduce or even eliminate back pain so you can have a better night’s rest.

image of woman doing yoga stretch

Yoga promotes flexibility and strengthening of the spine muscles.

What to do when you first wake up

When your eyes first flip open in the morning, you’re probably not thinking, Okay, time to get moving! While it’s tempting to hit the snooze button, it’s better for your back to get up and do a light workout as part of a morning routine. (As a bonus, research shows morning workouts can make it easier to fall asleep at night.)

Chang recommends yoga or Pilates stretches. “These are good activities to promote flexibility and strengthening of the spine muscles,” he says.

Related: 7 effective exercises you can do in bed

What to do when you’re at work

The work day is when many of us build up that back pain. A low-quality desk chair, less-than-perfect ergonomics, bad posture, and stress, and tension can all contribute to a sore back in the evening.

“Ensure your ergonomics at work are optimal,” Chang says. That may require a chat with your company’s ergonomics specialist, if it has one, and a check of your desk chair to see if everything is adjusted for you properly. Since sitting for extended periods can cause back pain, Chang also sings the praises of a desk with a sit/stand option.

“When patients are locked in one position for hours, the stress on the spine can cause pain that normally wouldn’t occur during the day.”

But perhaps the simplest solution of all is to just get up and move around at work whenever you can.

“Take frequent breaks from sitting for extended periods of time,” Chang says. Go for a lunchtime walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and do a lap around the floor whenever you feel your back stiffening up.

Maintain good posture even when you’re relaxing at home in front of the TV.

What to do when you’re home for the evening

Your day is finally done. That means you can plop down on the couch and let your muscles become loose noodles, right?

Wrong. Even though it may seem like your body is relaxed, you’re actually doing some harm to your back.

It might be a little tough at first, Chang says, “but maintain good posture even when relaxing at home, like in front of the TV or at the dinner table.”

You can also do some gentle stretching before bed and perform back pain-busting moves like child’s pose or downward dog.

What to do when you’re sleeping

You can also take precautions to prevent back pain while you’re catching some shut-eye. It’s all about pillow placement and sleep position Chang says. Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to avoid stomach sleeping if you have back pain, he says, since it places stress on your lower back. (If you can’t quit snoozing in this sleep position, here’s our best advice for stomach sleepers.)

According to Chang:

  • If you sleep on your back, then you should place a pillow under your knees to keep your spine in neutral alignment.
  • If you sleep on your side, then you should place a pillow between your knees and keep your neck as in as neutral a position as possible (i.e., not too high or too low).

Investing in a mattress with good lumbar support is another way to head off back pain at the pass. Lumbar support usually comes in the form of reinforcement in the center third of the mattress. where most people carry their weight. That keeps the hips and belly from sinking too far into the mattress and pulling the spine out of alignment.

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Additional back pain advice

In addition to these back-specific tips, Chang stresses taking care of your body in general, which can lead to lessened back pain.

It’s important to stay active every day, he says, and avoid foods that promote inflammation, such as processed foods and sweets.

Since inflammation is a big contributor to back pain, “Get plenty of sleep to allow the body to heal any inflammatory processes, but at the same time, remain active during the day to flush out the inflammatory byproducts in the discs,” Chang advises.

The bottom line: Improved sleep is within reach with these good, daily habits that can significantly decrease back pain.

For more tips on sleeping better with back pain, read these articles: