Lower back pain affects an estimated 80% of people in the U.S. at some point in their life. While injury and accident can understandably cause lower back pain, is it possible that your lower back pain is caused by poor sleep habits? Waking up with lower back pain is real, and here’s what it might mean.
Why is my lower back pain worse in the morning?
People who wake up with lower back pain every morning may suffer from one of the following common causes of back pain:
- Disc degeneration
- Trauma to the spine
- Spinal stenosis
- Musculoskeletal issues
Treating any of these conditions (or, in the case of pregnancy, waiting for them to finish), can help you reduce the chances of you waking up with lower back pain.
Disc degeneration is a common cause of lower back pain every morning.
In this condition, the intervertebral discs that cushion each vertebrae against their neighbors begins to wear out over time. This degeneration can cause misalignment of the spine or rubbing and inflammation around the bone. Both of these things can cause back pain in the morning.
Trauma to the spine
Any sprain or fracture in the back can intensify after a night of sleep.
Tiny fractures in the spine are referred to as isthmic spondylolisthesis, but trauma from things like whiplash due to car accident can also cause more back pain in the morning.
Between five and seven million people in the U.S. may be waking up with lower back pain due to scoliosis.
This curvature of the spine varies in severity but may feature back pain in the morning that then goes away over the course of the day.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column due to age or injury.
The earliest stages of this condition can cause considerable back pain upon waking as the spinal column presses on the nerves in and around the spine.
Sciatica is the name doctors use for a specific pain that involves the sciatic nerve. This pain has many different causes, but similar characteristics as it occurs. The sciatic nerve runs from the back of the buttocks on both sides of the body, down the hip, and into the foot. It is the longest nerve in the body.
Sciatic pain can be excruciating, running the length of this nerve. It’s also often accompanied by tingling in the leg, foot, and toes. Many who suffer from sciatic pain wake up with debilitating lower back pain every morning.
From muscular aches and pains to bumps and bruises, that extra session with the trainer (or the shovel in the garden) may have you feeling your lower back the next morning.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic, widespread connective tissue (fascia) disorder that causes pain, fatigue, and cognitive challenges.
The cause of fibromyalgia is not well known, but one thing is: waking up with lower back pain is a regular part of the morning for those who suffer from it.
Of all of the causes of lower back pain the morning, pregnancy at least may be one with an end in sight. Carrying a tiny human around all day places strain on the lower back. This strain can cause pain in the morning (and all night).
The inactivity of a full night of lying down can cause tightness and stiffness, regardless of the initial cause of back pain. Muscles may be tight, and old injuries or back pain conditions may make themselves known as the sun rises. In many cases, movement as the morning progresses eases the pain a bit, but for some, the first few moments of the day can be excruciating.
Can your bed cause lower back pain?
There are a few medical causes of lower back pain in the morning, and then there are environmental causes. Turns out, there are some causes that can be addressed right in your own bedroom.
It’s not you; it’s your mattress
Is your lower back stiff, sore, and achy in the morning? Do your arms and legs fall asleep at night? Chances are good it’s time to take a look at your mattress. Changing out your mattress can make a world of difference.
Many mattresses claim to be good for 15 years or more, but researchers would argue that is too long. A 2009 study found that switching out mattresses that averaged 9.5 years old for new ones resulted in improved sleep quality and a reduction in stress-related symptoms.
You know you need to switch your lumpy old bed, but choosing a new one is a challenge. Here are three steps to getting the right mattress for you.
Step 1: Ask for recommendations
Your friends and family will have a lot to say about this, especially if they suffer lower back pain in the morning. Some manufacturers also specialize in mattresses for lower back pain. You might consider giving them a try. They include:
- Bear Mattress
- Sleep Innovations
Step 2: Try before you buy
Don’t be shy. Go into the store and lay down on the mattress you are considering.
You will spend 33% of your life on this mattress, so spend some time (and some money) on it before you commit. Look for a mattress that keeps your spine in the same aligned position you have when you are standing. Most back sleepers prefer a firmer mattress. Most side sleepers like it a bit softer. There are no rules, though. Pick what feels good to you.
Some mattress stores or online retailers will give you a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you can’t get that, see if you can spend the night in a hotel with the type of mattress you are considering. You might just vacation your way to a better night of sleep.
Step 3: Change something
A new mattress can be a big expense. If that’s not in your budget right now, consider what changes you can make. If you need more support from a sagging mattress, add a few sheets of plywood between the mattress and the box spring. Need a little more cushion? A memory foam topper may be an affordable solution.
You can also use pillows to help you sleep better. Many pregnant women have discovered the miracle of the full-body pillow. This pillow snakes under their belly when they lie on their sides to support the weight of the baby and protect the spine’s natural curves. This can also help non-pregnant folks. Use pillows under the knees, between the knees, and judiciously under the head to create a supportive night of rest.
How should I sleep with lower back pain?
Poor sleep can impact every aspect of daily life. Waking from a fitful night of sleep can lead to grogginess and grouchiness during the day, which can lead to more chronic pain and a lack of sleep at night.
It’s a vicious cycle, but there are a few steps to take, including evaluating your sleeping position and cleaning up your sleep routine.
Sleep positions, evaluated
If your mattress is brand-new and of proper firmness for your back but you still wake up with lower back pain, it’s time to look at your sleeping position.
The best position to sleep in is one that keeps your spine in proper alignment, protecting the subtle inward curve of the lower back and not thrusting your chin forward.
Sleeping on the back
For most people with lower back pain, sleeping on your back is a mixed bag. For those with a soft mattress who like to sleep with multiple pillows, it’s one of the worst positions. The weight of the legs may cause the lumbar spine to curve excessively, compressing the vertebrae. This may cause numbness and tingling in the feet and legs (and sometimes even up the arms). People with spinal stenosis will definitely feel more pain as their spinal column presses in even more.
If you are a committed back sleeper, use a very skinny pillow under your head and a fluffier one behind your knees. A medium-firm to firm mattress is the best choice here.
Sleeping on the belly
Most everyone agrees that sleeping on the belly is pretty much the worst sleeping position for those who wake with lower back pain. This position flattens the curve of the lumbar spine and forces the neck to turn to one side for an extended period of time. Both things can cause strain on the muscles and tendons all the way up the spine.
Again, if you must sleep on your belly, placing a pillow under the hips can relieve the strain across your lower back a bit, but expect neck pain most mornings.
Sleeping on the side
Side sleeping may just be the best option for a host of lower back issues. It is possible in this position, more than the others, to preserve the natural curves of the spine.
Placing a pillow between the knees keeps the hips aligned comfortably. A pillow under the head can support the proper alignment of the head and neck (and be a little bit thicker than those for back and belly sleepers). Additionally, sleepers who suffer from heartburn or acid reflux may find relief in this position, too.
Clean up your sleep
If you find yourself racing towards bedtime with an iPhone in one hand, a laptop on the side table, and the TV on, it’s no wonder you are struggling to get a restful night of sleep.
Sleep hygiene refers to a routine that is conducive to a good night’s sleep. With 60% of people suffering from chronic sleep disorders, we could all use a little reminder. Here are ten ways to tidy up your nighttime routine.
- Turn off the screen: Turning off all screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime allows your brain to drift back into a more restful, less stimulated pattern of activity.
- Make the bedroom about rest: The bedroom should be a place of rest and intimacy, not work. This trains your brain to gear up for sleep when your head hits the pillow.
- Keep the room dark: The best nights of sleep happen when the room is very dark. Keep lights low and shades drawn.
- Maintain a schedule: Even if you sleep poorly, wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day.
- Tidy up your nightstand: Don’t let the clutter of the nightstand reflect the clutter of your mind. Keep both tidy.
- Look at your medications: If medications are causing your sleep disturbances, check with your doctor about replacing them with something that has fewer sleep-related side effects.
- Exercise earlier: Getting active improves sleep quality exponentially, but only if you leave at least three hours between your workout and your bedtime.
- Limit alcohol: Although a drink or two may make you feel sleepy, consuming alcohol before bed results in poor sleep that is interrupted frequently. Skip the nightcap.
- Sip smarter: Warm milk with nutmeg or a cup of chamomile tea are naturally relaxing and can promote restful sleep.
- Cool it down and keep it heavy: When your body temperature drops, your brain produces melatonin that screams, “Bedtime!” Keep your bedroom temperature at 65 degrees or less, and layer on the heavy blankets.
Talk to your doctor
If you make changes but are continuing to wake with lower back pain that disappears as the day progresses, talk to your doctor. They may have other solutions like gentle stretching when you wake up or subtle changes to routines and medications.
Sleep deprivation is serious, resulting in increased obesity and body fat, a less effective immune system, and an increase in the chances of serious illness such as diabetes. People with chronic pain suffer doubly, as lack of sleep intensifies chronic pain, and chronic pain contributes to lack of sleep.
Regardless of the cause of your waking up with lower back pain, a solution can be found. A pain specialist can help you run a full evaluation of your sleep routine and suggest a holistic approach to solving the problem of back pain upon waking!
You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.