Upper back pain while sleeping can disrupt your rest and leave you feeling sore and tired the next day. The good news is there are several ways to alleviate and prevent this common problem. With a few simple adjustments to your sleep position, mattress, and pillows, you can sleep pain-free and wake up feeling refreshed.
Causes of Upper Back Pain at Night
There are a few primary causes of upper back discomfort when sleeping:
- Poor sleep posture – Sleeping in a curled up fetal position or on your stomach can strain the muscles in your upper back. These positions cause your spine to be pushed out of alignment.
- Old, sagging mattress – Over time mattresses can lose their support. A mattress that sags in the middle or is excessively soft does not properly support your back’s natural curves. This lack of support leads to muscle tightness and pain.
- Wrong pillow – Using a pillow that is too low or too high for your body and sleep position can tilt your head and neck at an odd angle, putting stress on your upper back muscles.
- Conditions like arthritis or muscle strain – Some medical conditions that affect your back and musculoskeletal system can act up at night. These underlying issues can contribute to back discomfort while resting.
Tips to Relieve and Prevent Upper Back Pain When Sleeping
Making a few simple tweaks to how you sleep can help eliminate upper back aches and pains:
- Use the right pillow – Your pillow should support your head and neck in neutral alignment with the rest of your spine. Opt for a more contoured, ergonomic pillow if your regular one does not properly cradle your head. Side sleepers typically need a slightly thicker pillow to fill in the space between their ear and shoulder.
- Adjust your sleep position – Back and side sleeping are ideal for maintaining proper spinal alignment. If you sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees to take pressure off your lower back. When sleeping on your side, put a pillow between your knees. Avoid sleeping facedown on your stomach.
- Get a new mattress – If your mattress sags or lacks support, it’s time to get a new one. Look for a medium firmness mattress that conforms to your body’s natural curves without being too soft. Memory foam beds are great for contouring to the spine.
- Perform gentle back stretches – Simple stretches for your upper back before bed can help release any tension built up throughout the day. Try shoulder rolls, thoracic twists, and chest opening stretches.
- Use a heating pad – Applying heat to your upper back for 15-20 minutes before bed can relax tight muscles. Just don’t fall asleep with the heating pad on to avoid burns.
- Consider specialized back support devices – Products like contoured memory foam pillows, lumbar support rolls for under your knees, and orthopedic mattress toppers can all help improve spinal alignment as you sleep.
- See a doctor for chronic pain – If you have frequent or severe back pain at night, make an appointment with your doctor. They can check for any underlying medical issues and provide prescription treatment options if needed.
Proper Sleep Posture Basics
Establishing healthy sleep postures and positions will help keep your back properly supported all night long:
- On your back – Align your head, neck, and spine. Use a pillow under your knees to relieve lower back pressure.
- On your side – Keep your knees bent with a pillow between them. Use an ergonomic pillow to support your neck and head. Avoid your upper body from twisting.
- On your stomach – Try to avoid this position if you have existing back pain. It arches your neck and spine. If you must sleep on your belly, place a slim pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen to minimize back arching.
No matter your preferred sleep position, keep your spine relatively straight and supported. Avoid contorting your back into unnatural curves or twisting positions.
When to See a Doctor
If home remedies and sleep adjustments do not alleviate your upper back pain at night, consult your doctor. A medical professional can assess your symptoms and determine if there is an underlying condition contributing to the pain. Examples include:
- Herniated disc
- Muscle strain
- Skeletal abnormalities like scoliosis
Depending on the cause of your back pain, prescription medications, physical therapy, massage, chiropractic treatment, or orthopedic devices may be recommended. Surgery may be an option for severe cases if more conservative treatment approaches fail.
Get medical advice promptly if your nighttime back pain is accompanied by:
- Numbness or tingling in your arms or hands
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Shooting pain, weakness, or numbness in your legs
- Unexplained weight loss
These can indicate a serious underlying medical issue requiring immediate treatment.
When to Replace Your Mattress
An old, sagging mattress that lacks support can aggravate back pain symptoms. Here are some signs it’s time to get a new bed:
- You regularly wake up with stiffness, aches, numbness or tingling.
- There are visible sagging spots, lumps, or indentations in the mattress surface.
- Your mattress is over 7-10 years old. The average life expectancy of most models is 9 years.
- You sleep better in hotel beds or at other locations than your own bed.
- You and your sleeping partner are disrupted by each other’s tossing and turning.
As a general rule of thumb, start shopping for a replacement once your mattress reaches the 7-year mark. Investing in a high quality mattress designed to properly support your back and relieve pressure points can mean the difference between restful slumber and restless nights.
Upper back pain while sleeping is often due to poor spinal alignment and lack of support. Adjust your sleep position, pillow height, and mattress to keep your back properly supported. See a doctor promptly if pain persists to identify any underlying medical conditions requiring treatment. With some minor tweaks to your sleeping routine and environment, you can say goodbye to restless nights and upper back discomfort.