Upper Back Pain After Sleeping? How to Find Relief

Waking up with upper back pain can be annoying and uncomfortable. While there are many potential causes, the way you sleep is often a major factor. From poor sleeping posture to an inadequate mattress, many aspects of your sleep setup can contribute to back pain.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize and prevent upper back pain from sleeping. With a few simple tweaks to your sleep routine and environment, you can stop waking up with an aching back.

Causes of Upper Back Pain After Sleeping

Your upper back is a complex structure, so back pain can stem from issues in many areas. Here are some of the most common culprits behind upper back discomfort upon waking up:

  • Sleeping in an awkward position – Sleeping with your neck craned forward or your arms overhead can strain muscles in the upper back. Even side sleeping with a bent neck can trigger pain.
  • Old, sagging mattress – Over time, mattresses lose their support. A mattress that sags in the middle or feels uneven can throw your spine out of alignment as you sleep.
  • Wrong pillow – Using a pillow that is too thin or thick can tilt your head at an odd angle through the night, resulting in morning upper back pain.
  • Poor posture during the day – Slouching when sitting or standing carries over into the way you sleep, often causing back discomfort.
  • Stressed muscles – Tight upper back muscles from daily activities or exercise can easily get overworked as you sleep.
  • Trapped nerve – Compression of the nerves in the upper back may cause radiating pain.
  • Medical condition – In some cases, conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, or even lung or kidney problems contribute to back discomfort.

Tips to Reduce Upper Back Pain When Sleeping

Modifying your sleep setup and habits can work wonders for upper back pain relief. Here are some top tips:

Choose the right mattress – Find a mattress that is medium-firm and provides even support. Soft mattresses that sag easily are a common culprit of back pain.

Use a supportive pillow – Look for a pillow that keeps your head and neck aligned with the rest of your spine. Pillows that are too lofty or flat will tilt your head at an odd angle.

Mind your position – Avoid sleeping on your stomach, which twists the neck and upper back. Side and back sleeping are best. Place a pillow between your knees if side sleeping.

Stretch beforehand – Do some gentle upper back stretches before bed to help relax tight muscules. Chin tucks, shoulder rolls, and thoracic rotations are good options.

Try heat or cold therapy – Applying a heating pad or ice pack to the upper back before bed can help loosen up tight muslces.

Manage stress – High stress often manifests physically as muscle tension and pain. Try relaxation techniques before bed like meditation or deep breathing.

Check your posture – Be aware of poor posture during the day that you might carry over into sleep. Stand up straight, take breaks, and avoid hunching over devices.

See a doctor – If pain persists for more than a week or two, consult your physician to identify any underlying issue.

Adjust your workout routine – Avoid overworking the upper back with intense exercise before bedtime, and include plenty of upper back stretches during and after workouts.

Consider varying sleeping positions – Alternate between side sleeping, back sleeping, and propped side sleeping to vary pressure points on the upper back.

Upgrade your bedding – Invest in a supportive mattress, breathable sheets, and comfortable pillows tailored to your sleep style. This provides quality rest for the upper back.

When Upper Back Pain Needs Medical Attention

Mild discomfort that goes away after moving around is normal. But upper back pain that persists or worsens warrants a doctor’s visit. Seek medical care if pain:

  • Radiates into your arms or legs
  • Causes numbness or tingling
  • Is accompanied by weakness
  • Is severe and doesn’t improve with rest
  • Follows an injury like a car accident
  • Is accompanied by other concerning symptoms

Persistent or worsening upper back pain may indicate an underlying condition requiring treatment, like a pinched nerve or compressed disc. See a doctor to identify and address the source of the pain.


Waking up with morning upper back pain can certainly put a damper on your day. But you can take steps to prevent and treat back discomfort stemming from sleep. Pay attention to your mattress, pillow, and sleeping positions. Maintain good posture during the day, and engage in relaxing nightly routines. With some minor tweaks, you can stop tossing and turning from back pain and start waking up feeling refreshed.