When you’re experiencing chronic pain, finding a comfortable sleeping position can be, well, a real pain in the neck.
Dr. Rich Bakir, a chiropractor at Las Vegas Recovery Center, has been helping patients ease their pain through chiropractic spine and joint adjustments for nearly 15 years. In this article, he offers advice on the best sleeping positions for a range of common aches and pains. At no other time is chronic pain more accurately felt than at bedtime. Picture this: You’ve just crawled under the covers and turned off the light. You’ve adjusted your pillow so that it’s just the right amount of fluffiness. Your eyelids feel pleasantly heavy and your toes feel cozy in your soft wool socks. But just as you’re about to drift off to sleep, a fiery pain shoots through your lower back. You roll over to your side but it’s too late—you’re once again wide-awake. For many who experience chronic pain, the above scenario is a familiar one. Finding the most comfortable sleeping position—or any comfortable sleep position, for that matter—can seem as elusive as getting a full night’s rest. Forget “sleeping like a baby”, many with chronic pain would be happy if they could just sleep at all.
Why A Good Nights Rest is a Crucial Part of the Chronic Pain Recovery Process
Unfortunately, however, sleep and chronic pain are intrinsically linked. Your body needs deep sleep in order to recover from its injuries. Or as Dr. Rich Bakir explains it:
“Sleep is when you heal. You need to give your body adequate time to heal itself, and if you’re never sleeping, this can worsen your symptoms. The less sleep you get, the more pain you feel.”
– Dr. Rich Bakir
But how can someone get an adequate amount of sleep when they’re in pain? For starters, says Dr. Bakir, people can avoid sleeping positions that are known to cause and exasperate muscle and joint pain.
The Worst Sleep Position for Chronic Pain: The Stomach
It’s been known for some time that the stomach is most uncomfortable and potentially harmful sleeping position. Sleeping on your belly pulls the stomach down, which can put strain on the curvature of the spine and compress the lower back. Stomach sleeping also puts the head in an awkward and extreme 90-degree angle, which can cause or increase neck pain. “Nobody likes to hear this but sleeping face down is the worst thing you can do,” says Dr. Bakir. “Especially if have chronic pain, but even if you don’t, it’s not a good idea. Sleeping on your stomach forces your body to twist in an unnatural way.” How to Break the Stomach Sleeping Habit—If you’re a diehard stomach sleeper, one way you might break this bad habit is by keeping a tennis ball in the pocket of your sleep shirt. That way, if you roll over onto your stomach in the middle of the night, the uncomfortable feeling of a tennis ball pressing against your stomach will naturally force you to switch positions.
Most Comfortable Sleeping Position for Low Back Pain: Back
If you’re experiencing lower back pain, Dr. Bakir suggests sleeping on your back and using a pillow for added support. “Lie flat on your back and place a pillow under your knees.” This helps support the natural curve of your spine and “allows hamstring muscles to relax”, says Dr. Bakir. “If you can’t sleep on your back, sleep on your side. And place a pillow between your knees.”
Most Comfortable Sleeping Position for Neck Pain: Back or Side
If chronic neck pain is your problem, sleeping on your back is your best bet. While most people prefer the side sleep position, sleeping on your side can cause back and hip pain because it encourages the shoulder to drop forward and the spine to rotate. If you must sleep on your side, however, sleep with a pillow between your knees. Whichever way you choose to sleep, Dr. Bakir recommends you invest in the proper pillow support. “Just make sure you have proper back support under the neck and head, not just the head,” advises Dr. Bakir. “Get a contour pillow. A contour pillow allows your head to rest in the proper position. If the pillow is too tall, it causes the head to fall back, which can cause more discomfort or pain.”
Most Comfortable Sleeping Position for Shoulder Pain: Back or Side
While sleeping on your back is ideal, if pain levels prevent you from doing so, sleeping on your opposite side shoulder will work as well. “Place a pillow underneath your injured shoulder. This will help keep your aligned and prevent it from being jostled while you sleep.”
Most Comfortable Sleeping Position for Headaches or Jaw Pain: Back, Arms at Side
If you are experiencing jaw pain or chronic headaches, sleeping on your back can help because:
- It gives the head, neck and shoulders needed support
- It keeps the body aligned in a neutral position
- Unlike sleeping on your side or stomach, sleeping on your back won’t place any strain on your jaw
- Sleeping on you back lessens the odds you’ll clench your jaw or grind your teeth as you sleep
Oftentimes headaches are caused by tension in the neck and shoulders. Sleeping with your arms at your side is an easy preventative measure you can take because it reduces strain on the neck.
Most Comfortable Sleeping Position for Hip Pain: Side
If your hip hurts, sleep on your side and place a firm pillow between your knees. “This helps keep the hips and joints,” says Dr. Bakir, “because it helps make sure your weight is evenly distributed and helps keep the hips and pelvis in a neutral position.” While a comfortable sleeping position won’t cure all your chronic pain woes, Dr. Bakir believes it’s a step in the right direction. He cautions against generalizations, however. “Which sleeping position is best depends on the person. They’re specific to the individual. If someone has had surgery, for example, they might not be able to sleep in the most comfortable position because they don’t want to risk injury. It’s always best to consult with a doctor—he or she can give you a personalized recommendation.”
Get Help for Your Chronic Pain
If you or a loved one are looking for ways to deal with chronic pain beyond pain management in Las Vegas, Las Vegas Recovery Center’s chronic pain program offers services that will help you move beyond merely “managing” pain. Our services will teach you how to fully recover from it. The world-renowned program is overseen Dr. Mel Pohl, a leading expert in chronic pain recovery and a bestselling author. Call to learn more.