Every year, there are about 5 to 20 herniated disc cases per 1,000 adults. This condition is a leading cause of neck, arm, leg, and lower back pain. While there is nothing more revitalizing than a good night’s sleep, pain due to a herniated disc can keep you from getting the rest you need to be productive.

If you have been losing sleep due to a herniated disc, it may be time to pay attention to your sleeping position. The best sleeping position for herniated discs can help you maintain your spine’s natural curvature, relieving pressure.

Wondering what is the best sleeping position for herniated discs? Below is a comprehensive guide on herniated discs and sleep position suggestions to help you get a better night’s rest.

A women in her bed waking up from restful sleep

What Is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is an injury to the spine. You have disks between a series of bones (vertebrae) in your spine. These disks act as cushions between the bones, allowing you to move and bend with ease. When one or more disks rupture, you may have herniated discs.

Some of the factors that can contribute to a disk tear include:

  • Aging
  • Repetitive motions
  • Excessive weight
  • Sudden strain from improper twisting
  • A traumatic event like a fall or a blow to the back

A doctor holding a model of a herniated disc

How Do Herniated Discs Affect Your Sleep?

There is a wide range of herniated disc symptoms, but most patients will experience pain, especially when sleeping. You may feel:

This pain often grows worse during the night and can cause slight disruptions in your sleeping patterns. Interrupted sleep not only affects your sleep quality but also your physical and mental health. It increases your risk of getting cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancer, depression, and more.

Best Sleeping Position for Herniated Disc

If you are looking to alleviate the pain during the night, the best position to sleep for herniated discs can help you. There are a few that can help.

Sleep on Your Side with a Pillow Between Your Knees

If you feel uncomfortable, try moving to your side. Allow your left or right shoulder and the rest of that side of your body to touch the mattress. You can then place a pillow between your knees to keep your pelvis, hips, and spine in better alignment.

In case there is space between the bed and your waist, place a small pillow there for added support. However, avoid sleeping on the same side regularly. It may lead to issues like muscle imbalance and scoliosis.

Sleep on Your Side in the Fetal Position

To stop the pain caused by herniated discs from disrupting your sleep, consider sleeping on your side, curled in a fetal position.

You can achieve the fetal position by lying on your back and then rolling over to your side. After that, tuck your knees toward your chest and slowly twist your upper body toward your knees. This position is mostly beneficial if you have a herniated disc in the upper back.

Curling your torso into a fetal position opens up the vertebrae on your back to offer relief. It also allows you to fall asleep more easily. Remember to switch sides often to prevent any imbalances.

Sleep on Your Stomach with a Pillow Under Your Abdomen

Sleeping on your stomach can put a lot of pressure on your spine since it flattens the natural curve of your spine. What’s more, it can add stress to your neck. But if you’re used to lying on your stomach, you don’t have to force another sleeping position.

While it can be less optimal for back pain, there are ways it can work for herniated discs. You can use a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis to relieve some of the pressure off your spine. In addition, you can place a pillow under your head if you want.

Sleeping in this position can help relieve any stress placed on the space between your discs.

Sleep on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is one of the best positions to sleep for herniated discs. It allows your weight to be evenly distributed and spread across your body. As a result, you can put less strain on your pressure points.

Lying on your back with a thinner pillow is the best sleeping position for herniated discs in the neck. It reduces the risk of putting undue pressure on the spinal discs of the neck.

For a herniated disc in the lower back, roll up a towel under your lower back. You can adjust the thickness of the towel until you feel comfortable. If you’re suffering from a thoracic herniated disc, you can place a pillow underneath your knees to decompress your spine and keep it neutral.

Sleep in a Reclined Position

Do you have a recliner?

It can help you get quality sleep despite having a herniated disc. Sleeping in a reclined position can take the pressure off your spine by creating an angle between your thighs and trunk. This allows your core muscles to rest, offering relief.

Sleep with Your Head in a Neutral Position

This sleeping position is suitable for people with a thoracic herniated disc. If you have a pillow that is too thin or thick under your head, you may be constricting your thoracic spine from the neck. Lying in a neutral position can help. It’s even better if you have a pillow that allows your spine to stay in a neutral position.

Other Beneficial Tips for People with Herniated Disc

For people suffering from herniated discs, sleeping positions matter. In addition to lying in the best sleep position, you can take the following measures to help alleviate pain and live comfortably.

Alignment Is Key

No matter what sleeping position you choose, ensure your spine is properly aligned. Focus on aligning your ears, shoulders, and hips. Having gaps between the bed and your body can strain your spine. In case this happens, use pillows to fill the gaps.

Also, be careful when changing sleeping positions since you can get out of alignment during these motions. When turning, keep your core tight and pull and move your whole body together. Bringing your knees toward your chest as you roll over can also help you maintain proper alignment.

Choose the Right Mattress

If you have a herniated disc, the right mattress can keep your spine aligned and relieve pressure buildup. Less pressure alleviates back pain and improves your sleep quality. Some of the best mattresses for herniated discs include latex and memory foam.

Choose a Suitable Pillow

Pillows help ease disc herniation pain. They cradle your head and neck, boosting spinal alignment. Picking the pillow loft depends on your sleep position.

  • Back Sleepers: Choose a medium pillow loft, between 3 to 5 inches tall, to ensure proper support of your head and neck without straining muscles
  • Side Sleepers: Since side sleepers have a bigger gap between the neck and bed, they should consider picking a medium pillow loft of about 5 inches or higher.
  • Stomach Sleepers: Get a low loft pillow that is below 3 inches to reduce tension in your neck, shoulders, and spine
  • Combination Sleepers: Select a medium pillow loft, no higher than 5 inches, to maintain proper alignment for any sleep position

Invest in a Mattress Topper

If you have an old mattress, no need to buy a new one for relief. You can invest in a mattress topper. It helps adjust the firmness of your mattress and adds an extra comfort layer.

For people living with herniated discs, a topper can help distribute your body weight evenly, keep your spine aligned, and relieve pressure points. Also, it can make it easy for you to roll over in bed.

Get an Adjustable Bed

Adjustable beds can offer relief for people with herniated discs in the lower back. You can find relief by elevating your legs, which helps to stretch your back. This helps straighten your back, opening up the joints and relieving pain. However, adjustable beds can be expensive.

Find a Proper Sitting Position

If you have herniated discs, sit up straight, and your knees should be level with your hips. To offer extra support, put a small pillow or a rolled-up towel between the arch of your lower back and the chair. Also, you should be able to keep your feet flat on the ground.

Don’t slouch, as it puts a strain on your spinal ligaments and aggravates your condition. Additionally, ensure you don’t sit for long periods.

Engage in Physical Therapy

Physical therapy includes exercises and stretches that strengthen your spinal muscles and improve mobility. This can help reduce pain and tension.

Get Quick Relief From Herniated Discs

Can’t sleep due to herniated discs? Mentioned above are the best sleeping positions for herniated discs to help you. The aforementioned tips may complement the quality treatment at Pain and Spine Specialist of Maryland.

We will work together with you to create a customized treatment plan that will effectively address your pain. Contact us to book an appointment with our qualified pain management doctor.

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