7 Reasons You May Experience Lower Back Pain After Sleep

Morning back pain can be a discouraging problem. Especially when we’ve done nothing that we know of to cause it. It seems at times that we can move furniture and run a marathon with no ill-effects, yet somehow, a back can be mysteriously injured while we are sleeping in our own beds. How is this possible? How in the world can bed be the place where back injuries occur, even when we are doing nothing but sleeping and dreaming?

Approximately 80 percent of the population experiences lower back pain at some point in their lives. It’s one of the most common reasons people see a doctor. While sometimes this pain has specific causes such as disc degeneration, injuries, or diseases such as scoliosis, or spinal stenosis, in some cases, a perfectly healthy person with a normal, uninjured back still experiences frequent back pain upon waking.

So what it is that happens while we sleep that causes this morning discomfort that can make it difficult to begin our day without feeling like we woke up on the wrong side of the bed?

Poor Positioning

The spine has a natural curve. Sleeping in a position which causes strain on that curvature can result in lower back pain and stiffness upon rising. Lying on the stomach during sleep is generally considered the worst sleep position for your back because the spine will be out of natural alignment. If you absolutely can’t stop sleeping on your stomach, placing a thin pillow under your abdomen will help to keep your spine aligned.

Side-sleeping can also cause misalignment of the spine, though it is by far the most popular sleeping position. If you are a natural side-sleeper, switching sides as frequently as possible can help to relieve pressure points and lower back strain. Placing a pillow between the thighs while sleeping on your side can correct the misalignment in the hips, spine, and pelvis and help to prevent morning back pain.

Mattress Malice

One of the most common causes of morning back pain is sleeping on a bad mattress or one that isn’t right for your preferred sleeping position. Mattresses should be switched out for a new one about every ten years. After a decade of use, even the best mattress will lose its structural integrity and should be replaced.

If you are frequently waking with back pain, it may be time for a new mattress. It can be beneficial to look for one of the best mattresses for preventing back pain. Today’s mattresses have come a long way from those of even a decade ago. Many of today’s mattresses are constructed with pressure point relief in mind. Memory foam, gel, and pillow-topped mattresses are not only comfortable but can relieve back and hip pain.

Be sure to test a mattress by actually lying on it for a short time before choosing to make a purchase. If a new mattress is not in your budget, buying a mattress topper in a good memory foam or gel can help to relieve pressure points and lower the instances of back pain.

Pillows and Pain

A bad pillow—or the wrong pillow for your sleeping position—can cause your spinal alignment to be off, resulting in back pain. For example, sleeping on your side with a pillow that is too flat to support the weight of your head beneath your neck, your entire spine will be thrown out of proper alignment while you sleep, potentially resulting in pain.

Sleeping on your back with a pillow that’s too high, or offers too much support and firmness can throw your head too far forward, causing spinal misalignment that may affect your neck and back.

If you suspect that your pillow is causing you pain, it is time to try a new one. Today’s pillows come in many options, from memory foam that conforms to your shape, to classic down pillows that are easily molded into any shape that best offers you support and alignment. It’s just a matter of finding the perfect pillow for you.

Sleep-Stealing Stress

Stress causes muscle tension which may manifest even during our sleeping hours. The hormones associated with chronic stress can cause muscle tension and muscle spasms during sleep, which can result in morning back pain. Stress has also been associated with sleep disturbances and posture changes during sleep which may result in back pain.

Skeletomuscular Problems

If waking up with back pain is a frequent problem despite improving your mattress, pillow, and sleeping position, you could be suffering from a skeletomuscular disorder. Many disorders caused by strain or injury can disrupt sleep and cause back pain. Problems with the discs, joints, tendons, nerves, and structures supporting the spine can result in pain upon awakening.

Disc Degeneration

The spinal discs between the vertebrae in the back may wear down over time. Because the pressure inside the discs is highest in the morning, the pain associated with this problem is typically at its worst in the morning. Morning spinal stiffness with persistent back pain may be a sign of disc degeneration.

Sleep Disorders

Some sleep disorders may result in lower back pain after sleep. Medical experts tell us that sleep apnea and back pain often go hand and hand. Sleep apnea causes increased sensitivity to pain, causing a stiff back to feel more painful. Also, the tossing, turning, and thrashing associated with insomnia may cause us to fall asleep in unusual positions which can result in awakening with back pain.

A study in 2015 revealed that the worst back pain is typically experienced in the mornings and that the cause of most back pain was actually awkward sleeping posture, and not episodes of heavy-lifting or exercise that you might think are more likely to put your back at risk.

Sleeping involves remaining in a single position for extended periods of time in a way that doesn’t happen during our waking hours. During sleep, a position held for a long period of time may result in compression, nerve pinching, and tissue being oxygen-starved. For all of these reasons, sleeping is essentially one of the riskiest situations for our lower back, and we expose it to this situation night after night. As such, it’s important to find the best mattress, the best pillow, and the best sleeping position that works for you.