Sleep Tips for a Bad Back and Back Pain | MattressNextDay

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Sleep Tips for a Bad Back

Sleep Tips for a Bad Back

According to figures released by the NHS, back pain is the largest single cause of disability in the UK, affecting around 30% of the population at any one time. Of those sufferers, around 11% are considered to be disabled as a direct result of the pain they are experiencing. Broadly speaking, back pain can be broken down into three different types:

1. Acute back pain: This is defined as short-term pain, although it can last anywhere between one day and up to one month. Typically, this level of back pain is usually attributed to a strain or injury.

2. Subacute back pain: This is defined as pain that lasts between one and three months. In this case, a doctor’s appointment is recommended, to see whether the condition will heal naturally or require treatment. Left unchecked, subacute back pain can become chronic back pain.

3. Chronic back pain: This is defined as pain that lasts three months or longer. It can present as a constant ache, a series of painful episodes, or a severe stabbing sensation. A doctor’s appointment is recommended as, if left untreated, chronic back pain can develop into a disability.

While strains and injury are some of the most common causes of back pain, there are others. Causes can include:

  • Osteoarthritis: this is the degeneration of bone and cartilage, which can lead to restricted mobility and pain.
  • Herniated discs: this occurs when one or more of the cushioning discs between the vertebrae is dislodged. This can result in limited movement and severe pain.
  • Pinched nerves: this can occur when too much pressure is placed on nerves, usually by surrounding bones, muscles, cartilage. This can result in constant pain and reduced mobility.
  • Spondylitis: this is defined as an inflammation of the vertebrae and, if left unchecked, can result in a curvature of the spine. Pain levels experienced as a result of this condition are significant.
  • Sciatica: this is usually caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, typically as the result of a herniated or slipped disc. The pain is acute and usually experienced from the waist down, through the legs, and into the feet.

What type of sleeping position is best for back pain?

Back pain, whether it’s acute or chronic, constant or intermittent, can present a significant obstacle to getting a good night’s sleep. The Sleep Foundation recommends that aligning the spine as much as possible can help to mitigate pain and improve the quality of sleep. Here are the five best positions to try, if you suffer from back pain:

1. Sleep on your side, with a pillow or cushion placed between your knees. This is good for those suffering from lower back pain. The pillow helps to keep your spine aligned with your hips and pelvis. This minimises strain on the lower lumbar region.

2. If you’re suffering from a herniated or slipped disc, curling into the foetal position while lying on your side may help. Curling your spine in this way helps to open up the spaces between the vertebrae and may encourage the disc to move back into its correct position.

3. In the case of a degenerative disc condition, sleeping on your stomach can help to minimise the stress placed in the spaces along your spinal column. To ensure that there is no undue pressure placed on the neck, place a pillow or cushion under your pelvis or lower abdomen. You may find that you prefer to sleep without a pillow under your head.

4. If sleeping on your side or front is too uncomfortable, you may be able to sleep on your back. Placing a pillow or cushion under your knees can help to keep your spine aligned. If required, a smaller pillow can be placed under the small of your back, to support its natural curve.

5. Conditions such as spondylitis can require more than a pillow can offer! Buying an adjustable bed can be a great way to ensure your spine remains aligned and gets the support it needs. In addition, an adjustable bed can help to minimise the potential for pain experienced by some back pain sufferers, when getting in and out of the bed.

What is the best mattress for bad backs?

Ultimately, personal preference will play a huge part in which mattress you choose. However, when it comes to trying to combat back pain, it’s worth remembering that a mattress that’s too soft will not offer the support your spine needs and can compound the problem, to make it worse. A new mattress, bought with considerations for your spinal health in mind, can help to mitigate night-time back pain and, in some cases, help to improve the condition. So which is the best mattress for a bad back?

Woman stretching in bed after waking up

Pocket sprung

Pocket sprung mattresses contain springs, each individually housed in a fabric pocket. This allows each spring to move independently and fit the contours of the body. This provides optimum support and comfort, just where it’s needed. These are likely to offer greater benefit to sleepers of a heavier build, with the springs becoming more reactive according to the pressure placed on them. They also help to take the weight of pressure points, such as the hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders, keeping them in alignment with the spine.


Latex mattresses can be a great choice for those suffering from long-term back pain. Responsive and breathable, they mould to the contours of your body, even when you change position. This allows the provision of support while delivering personalised levels of comfort. Latex mattresses are available in a range of densities, allowing you to select the one that’s best for your size, weight, and build.

Memory foam

Memory foam mattresses are widely hailed as the best choice for those with lower back pain. As with latex, they support the contours of the body and provide comfortable reinforcement to the pressure points. However, as with latex, these mattresses come in a variety of densities, so be sure to choose the one that’s right for your size, and weight. An alternative is to buy a memory foam topper and put it on top of a pocket sprung mattress, for extra support and comfort.

Is a firm mattress best for a bad back?

Firmer mattresses tend to be recommended, as they help to disperse the body’s weight equally, taking the strain off important areas such as the neck and the base of the spine. For those who need higher levels of support and comfort, orthopaedic mattresses can be a superb option. These are available in a range of upholsteries and with a variety of fillings, allowing you to choose the firmness and cushioning that’s best for you.

Top tips for relieving back pain

While there are many causes of back pain, prevention is always better than cure. Here’s a brief overview of things you can do at home, in the prevention or treatment of back pain.

1. Exercise. Professor Stuart McGill from Waterloo University says that the best approach is to “spare the spine. Enhance the muscle challenge, and enhance the motor control system to ensure that spine stability is maintained in all other activities.” He recommends three exercises: the bird dog, the side bridge, and a version of the curl-up.

2. Good posture. Making a conscious effort to keep your spine aligned, whether you’re standing, sitting, or lying down, can have a positive impact on back pain. Poor habits such as slouching, hunching over your workstation, and even wearing high-heeled shoes can all point the way towards back problems. Keep your neck, spine, hips, and knees in alignment to ensure that all pressure is spread equally through the bones, muscles, and cartilage.

3. Buy a new mattress. A mattress that’s sagging, lumpy, too hard, or too soft, can increase the likelihood of back pain. If your mattress is past its sell-by date (usually around eight years), then it could well be time to invest in a new one and protect your spine. A mattress that offers inadequate support, combined with poor sleeping positions, can lead the vertebrae to put pressure on the sciatic nerve which, in turn, can cause lower back pain. A good-quality mattress can support the natural curve of the spine, during periods of inactivity.

4. Use temperature therapy. Using ice packs and hot-water bottles can help to alleviate back pain. It’s thought that, for the first week, sufferers may benefit from applying ice packs, wrapped in a towel, for around 20 minutes each day. This helps to reduce painful inflammation. The second week sees the ice pack swapped for a hot-water bottle. The heat relaxes blood vessels in the affected area, allowing healing hormones easier access with the increased blood flow.

5. Talk to your GP. If the pain is too much to bear, or lasts longer than a few days, consulting your GP is the best course of action. They may recommend a course of medication and pain relief, refer you to a specialist, or be able to give you a series of beneficial exercises to follow.

Our top picks for mattresses to help back pain

The impact of back pain on an individual cannot be underestimated. At best it can be a constant ache, and, at worst, it can result in limited mobility and chronic pain. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to the healing process and your overall wellbeing. Here are our top five recommendations for mattresses for back pain.

1. Sealy Posturepedic Pearl Ortho Mattress. A mid-price mattress that uses the PostureTech Zero Deflection System to offer a good night’s sleep, tailored to your size, weight, and body type.

2. SleepSoul Bliss 800 Pocket Memory Pillowtop Mattress. Combining all the support of pocket springs with the contouring comfort of memory foam, this mattress is topped with a pillowtop for extra snuggleabilty.

3. Sleepeezee Memory Comfort 1000 Pocket Mattress. This medium-firm mattress combines two layers of memory foam, with 1,000 pocket springs, to offer superb comfort and to equalise the pressure on the spine.

4. Rest Assured Adleborough 1400 Pocket Ortho Mattress. 140 pocket springs and natural cotton filling offer customised comfort and firmness.

5. Silentnight Studio Memory Hybrid Mattress. A deep layer of memory foam offers comfort and tailored support, while the Mirapocket spring system ensures that the mattress is responsive.

If you’re looking for more advice on the best sleeping positions, read our handy guide. Additionally, you can read up on the best mattress for side sleepers or best mattress for stomach sleepers, by visiting our Advice Hub for latest tips.

Author: Lucy

Lucy is a copywriter, trend spotter, and our resident sleep expert! Lucie has been with the team since 2018 and her articles cover a sweeping array of subjects from general product care, the latest bedroom design trends, ways to promote healthier sleep and jargon-busting explanations to help you understand what goes into our products. Do you have questions for Lucy & the team? Call one of our sleep experts today!