Sleep Problems Associated With Back Pain (and How to Fix Them)

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Back pain can be tiresome!

If you suffer from back pain, you probably struggle to get a good night's sleep. Here are some of the sleep issues related to back pain and a few tips on how to improve your sleep, as identified by a 2015 study published in International Musculoskeletal Medicine.

Woman with back pain when getting out of bed in the morning.

Consequences of back pain

The review found that back pain has a profound effect on causing insomnia and depressed mood. The worse the pain, the more difficult it is to fall asleep and the more frequent the night time awakenings.

Couple wwake in bed, unable to sleep.

Difficulty falling asleep

Difficulty falling asleep was linked to back pain severity. It was also found to be more common in women and those with direct lumbar trauma.

Sad and lonely man seated on his bed unable to sleep.

Waking due to pain

Waking up because of pain was found to be more likely in those with a posterior column problem. The awakenings were found to be caused by pain when turning during the night, or aching when lying still.

Man can't sleep due to pain.

Waking due to night time movement

Men were found to be more likely to wake due to pain caused by turning in the night. It was also found to be more common in those with facet joint syndrome.

Man with back pain getting undressed at night.

Waking due to night time aches

Women were found to be more likely to wake due to pain or aches not associated with night time movement. This form of sleep interruption was more common in those with a herniated disc.

Senior woman uncomfortable bed with back pain.

Early morning stiffness

Those with posterior ramus syndrome (also known as thoracolumbar junction syndrome, Maigne syndrome, and dorsal ramus syndrome) were found to be more likely to experience early morning stiffness for an hour or more.

Buying bed mattress, checking firmness.

How firm a bed do you need?

The review found that physiotherapists recommend those with back pain relieved by flexion should sleep on a softer bed. Those with pain relieved by extension should sleep on a firmer bed.

Young African American man asleep on back in bed.

Check your sleeping position

Although sleeping on your side with your knees bent may feel comfortable, it isn't a balanced position for the back. If you sleep on your side, keep your lowermost leg almost straight and bend your top leg. Lying flat on your back can minimize pressure on the spinal discs.

Woman sleeping comfortably in bed.

The benefits of heat wrap therapy

Using a low level heat wrap overnight was found to provide relief from pain, reduce muscle stiffness, improve flexibility, and improve sleep quality.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.