It’s hard to catch those zzz’s when you’re suffering with neck or back pain. We get it! Falling and staying asleep can be extremely difficult when you can’t find a comfortable position that doesn’t lead to pain. Additionally, many of our patients report waking up in pain from the night before.
TOP 5 TIPS TO A RESTFUL SLEEP FOR THOSE SUFFERING WITH BACK OR NECK PAIN:
Finding the perfect pillow is crucial for those with neck pain. If you are a side sleeper, a supportive pillow that keeps your neck straight usually is the best. If you sleep on your back, flatter pillows that allow your head to rest backwards are generally better. Avoid puffy pillows for this position as they can cause your neck to hunch forward. Studies have also shown that neck-specific pillows that are slightly firm may also help people with chronic neck pain.
2. FIND THE RIGHT MATTRESS FOR YOU
The right mattress can be the difference between a great night’s sleep or a painful morning. In general, medium-firm mattresses have been shown to provide more support and comfort for individuals suffering with back pain. This type of mattress is preferred over an extremely firm or overly cushiony mattress. The reason for this is kind of like a Goldie Locks principle. Similar to the neck, the lower back’s natural posture is arched slightly backwards. A firm mattress allows the lower back to properly align but you may still wake up sore from too little cushioning. If the mattress is too soft, the spine conforms too much and has postural misalignment. The medium-firm mattress provides enough support and cushion to make it juuuust right.
3. LIMIT CAFFEINE USE NEAR BEDTIME.
This may seem obvious, but consuming caffeinated drinks and food in the evening can keep you awake. This includes coffee as well as many sodas, tea, and chocolate. Limiting caffeine from 4-6 hours before going to sleep is the recommended timeframe.
4. MAINTAIN A STRICT BEDTIME.
Humans are creatures of habit. If you routinely go to sleep and wake up at the same time, you will train your body to follow suit. Alternatively, if you fall asleep at midnight one day and then try sleeping at 9pm the next, your body will be out of sync and it will be more difficult to fall asleep. Try maintaining a sleep schedule and you may find you don’t even need an alarm clock in the morning!
5. AVOID A LARGE LATE-NIGHT SNACK.
Studies show that heavy meals before going to bed often disrupt consistent sleep and interfere with normal sleep cycles. High doses of carbohydrates, for example, create a sugar rush effect which can impair restful sleep. For this reason, stick to smaller quantities of food that are rich in protein at least an hour before bedtime
While these general rules should help your sleep, use trial and error. There are many pillows and mattresses on the market so grab some friends and make a day of it! The most comfortable one may be the ideal product for you!
Dr. Colin Haines is a board certified spine surgeon and the Director of Research at Virginia Spine Institute. Dr. Haines performed the world’s first combined endoscopic and robot-guided spine surgery. His patient success has earned him a national feature on The Today Show and WebMD, and Top Doctor recognition in consecutive years. Learn more about Dr. Haines.