Is your back pain getting worse at night?

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

06 July 2017

What causes back pain at night?

Do you feel as though your back pain is worsening at night but can’t understand why? Well surprisingly there are a number of reasons why your back pain can spike suddenly during the night, either disturbing your sleep or causing you to wake up feeling stiff, sore and in need of another nap.

  • Circadian rhythm: Your circadian rhythm simply refers to your internal 24 hour clock that governs your sleep/wake cycle. It can stimulate the release of certain hormones, such as cortisol and melatonin, but it can also slow down certain bodily processes, such as your digestion, circulation and breathing. This can sometimes be problematic though, especially when it comes to pain and inflammation. If your digestion is slowed down, it means that excess fluid and toxins can linger inside your body, triggering an inflammatory reaction that may upset your back pain. You also have to consider that if your breathing is being slowed, more carbon dioxide is also present within your system, which can make your nerves more sensitive and susceptible to pain!
  • Sleep deprivation: Now this may seem extremely unfair – after-all, it’s likely the back pain itself is interrupting your sleep but hear me out.  Sleep is vital for the healing process – if your back pain is due to a sporting injury or overstretching your muscles then you will need plenty of rest to recuperate. However, if you are not getting enough sleep it can interrupt the healing process and cause your symptoms to dawdle. It’s even suggested that sleep deprivation can “negatively impact perception of pain1” making you more aware or sensitive to pain than you ordinarily would have been
  • Posture and sleep position: It’s a pretty obvious factor to consider but how you sleep does matter. Certain sleeping positions can place a strain on your hips and lower back, inflaming your symptoms and making your back pain worse. This is especially true if you have bad posture – how many of us spend our time slouched over our computers or in an office? This can come into play later on in the day when our muscles start to complain and ache
  • Mattress: Another seemingly evident option that can affect how you sleep, the comfort of your mattress can certainly contribute towards back problems. Naturally, the type of mattress you prefer is a personal choice, however if your mattress does not support your back adequately, it can trigger back pain. A medium firm mattress is preferable if you have a bad back – it should be firm enough to support you but soft enough to contour your body.2



Can sleeping on my stomach cause back pain?

The simple answer is yes. Stomach sleeping is infamous for causing back pain problems, which makes sense when you think about it.

Most of your body weight will be dispersed around your middle so the natural curve of your spine will be flattened and placed under unnecessary strain in an awkward position. Since the spine is a hub for your nerves this pain can spread throughout your entire body, not just your lower back!

Then there’s your neck to consider. Unless you’ve miraculously developed the ability to breath with a pillow stuffed in your face, the chances are that you have to turn your neck to the side in order to breathe peacefully through the night.

This can cause problems because it’s not a natural angle for your neck to be twisted at – imagine sitting all day with your head turned to the side! It puts your head out of alignment with your spine which eventually will cause you some discomfort and in a worst case scenario it can cause some real health problems such as a herniated disk!

How should I sleep with back pain?

Okay, so stomach sleeping is clearly off the agenda – how are you supposed to sleep then? Well hold your horses; stomach sleeping doesn’t have to be off the agenda entirely.

I understand that it can be difficult to adjust to a new sleeping position so I’ve provided some tips on how to optimise your stomach sleeping experience to minimise any back pain problems.

1. Ditch the extra pillow – Well all enjoy lying back and taking in the comfort of a nice soft pillow but if you prefer stomach sleeping you may need to prepare yourself to part with at least one of your pillows. The more elevated your neck is, the more it is angled which can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Instead use that extra pillow to prop up your pelvis while you sleep – this should take some of the pressure off your back!

2. Stretch in the mornings - Try to stretch properly in the mornings – it can help to diminish any lingering aches or pains and help to wake up the muscles in your back properly. Why not give yoga a go? It’s great for promoting flexibility and balance and can help you to relax and focus, preparing your mind and body for the day ahead.

3. Train your body – On the other hand, if you really want to curb that bad habit, you could try training your body for a new sleep position. Most stomach sleepers find it easier to adjust to sleeping on their sides so why not try using some of your pillows to train your body? Position a few pillows at either side of your body, close to the ribs – this should prevent you from rolling on to your stomach!

What if I don’t sleep on my stomach? Well if you don’t sleep on your stomach there are still a number of things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep, especially if you suffer from back pain. Check out my article on the topic here to get an idea about the best sleeping positions for your back!

How do you prevent back pain?

Apart from correcting your sleeping position, you are probably wondering what else you can do to diminish your chances of developing back pain, particularly at night. Fortunately there are a number of easy steps you can take to relieve and prevent back pain, although it may involve making a few simple lifestyle changes!

Change your posture: I have already touched upon how posture can affect your back so it’s important that you do everything possible to amend your own posture. I know it’s tempting to slouch, particularly when you’re tired, but it really can upset your back. If you need a little extra support, simply roll up a towel so it forms a long tube. Position it between your chair and the small of your back. Hopefully this should discourage you from slouching without compromising on your comfort!

Consider your footwear: Your feet are important but most of us are guilty of mistreating them at some point or another, whether it’s imprisoning them in stiletto heels or going for a jog in inappropriate trainers. Instead of punishing your feet, try to focus on comfort first. Wear shoes that fit properly and if you are going for a jog, make sure you have the right trainers!

Look at your diet: Believe it or not, your diet can affect your chances of getting back pain, especially if you’re fond of sweet, sugary foods. This is because many foods can stimulate an inflammatory reaction – think alcohol, caffeine, salt and processed fats! Eating too much of these foods can also lead to obesity, which will really place a lot of unnecessary strain on your poor back. Instead focus on wholesome healthy foods – fruit, veg and plenty of wholegrains.  Really try to increase your intake of vitamin D and calcium – both of these nutrients are critical when it comes to supporting your bones!

Gentle exercise: Exercise can be a great way to strengthen your back muscles and increase your flexibility. Knowing how much and what types of exercises to do is crucial though – the last thing you want is to over-exercise and end up pulling a muscle! I’d personally recommend swimming because it’s a gentle, low impact exercise that should help to ease any pain or discomfort. If you want to read more about back pain and exercise though, make sure you check out my article on the subject for more details!

Try Atrogel® Arnica Gel to ease your pain

If you are currently suffering from back pain at night and looking for a natural way to relieve your discomfort without having to resort to painkillers, I would really recommend trying our Atrogel®Arnica Gel

This natural herbal remedy is prepared using extracts of fresh arnica flowers formulated into a lovely cooling non-greasy gel that’s quick and simple to apply directly to the source of your pain.

Perfect for adults, children and pregnant women, you can use this wonderful product for bruises, joint pain or muscle aches alongside your usual pain relief medication. It’s a must-have in my opinion and once you’ve tried it, I’m sure you’ll agree!

“Excellent gel, better than the other available in the market.”


Originally written on 06/07/2017, updated on 14/08/2018.

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