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The Truth About Sleep Positions

Are you not feeling yourself when you wake up in the morning? Are tossing and turning at night trying to find that comfortable position?

Chances are, if you have back pain it keeps you awake at night. Of course, researchers have found that chronic back pain significantly affects quality of sleep. Address sleep problems as an integral part of your pain management plan to prevent the progression of back pain (Marin et al., 2006).

Chronic back pain was found to affect several dimensions of sleep, including (Kelly, et al., 2011):

  • Sleep disturbance and duration

  • Poor daytime function due to lack of sleep

  • Sleep quality

  • Sleep satisfaction and distress

  • Sleep efficiency

  • Increased time taken to fall asleep

To prevent lost sleep at night and to improve next day performance capabilities, it is important to have proper sleeping posture. Proper sleeping posture supports your spine while you are asleep to prevent waking up feeling stiff and sore throughout the night.

Sleep Solutions to Prevent Waking Up with a Stiff Back

The best sleeping postures are sleeping on your back or your side. While sleeping on your back focus on relaxing your spine so your back, shoulders, and hips are comfortably touching the bed. Keep your legs extended out, or place a small pillow under your legs with your legs slightly bent. Laying on your back and allowing your legs to fall to one side or the other can cause excessive spinal twisting while sleeping.

If you prefer to sleep on your side be aware of your posture by placing a small pillow between your legs. This will help keep your hips in a level position throughout the night. Check to see that your ear is aligned over your shoulder and your shoulders are aligned over your hips. This is a neutral posture with minimal stress to your back and neck.

Support your body with good pillows, but not excessively fluffy pillows. I want you to feel comfortable at night and be able to fall asleep without pain. However, excessively fluffy pillows can create strain to your neck and do not support your head. You may experience headaches or neck pain from the use of too many pillows or very large pillows. (I see this happening too frequently)

Once you find a comfortable position that supports your back focus on falling asleep in this posture. If you wake up throughout the night consciously put yourself back in the healthy sleeping posture and fall asleep again in this posture.

You want to train yourself to sleep in a healthy position. This requires conscious repetition. Even if you wake up in a different position, simply move back into the healthy posture to fall back asleep.

Take note of your posture when you wake up. Did you wake up in the same position or did you toss and turn throughout the night? Tossing and turning can reduce sleep quality leaving you feeling groggy in the morning. If you moved throughout the night put yourself back in the healthy posture before rising from bed. Train your brain and body to maintain a good sleeping posture.

If you feel stiff in the morning when you wake up, take a shower then perform light stretches of the lower back before heading to work. Ease into the day with a good stretch and proper posture.

Poor sleep is associated with many health consequences that can affect your performance at work, your mood, and how you feel during the day. To prevent fatigue the next day take care to sleep in a good position and create new posture habits that support healthy sleeping patterns.


  • Kelly, G. et al. (2011) The Association Between Chronic Low Back Pain and Sleep: A Systematic Review. Clinical Journal of Pain, 27(2) 169-181.

  • Marin, R. et al. (2006) Sleep Disturbance in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 85(5) p. 430-435.

  • API Sleep For Stiff Back (2017)


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