Sleep is essential for all aspects of your health and wellbeing, including your spinal health
Back pain is one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the UK. In fact, NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) reports that 60% of the UK population will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, and one in five will see their GP at least once a year because of it.
This can be due to a number of factors, from heavy lifting and poor posture to long stints of driving or working at a desk. However, one of the things that can really impact your spinal health is how you sleep.
Sleep is vital for your bone, joint and muscular health, but the position you sleep in can have a direct impact on the state of your spine. Let’s take a closer look at the relationship.
Sleep and bone health
Sleep has been the subject of numerous studies, particularly when it comes to its impact on our wider health. This includes studies into how sleeps impacts the health and strength of our bones.
One 2019 study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that getting five or fewer hours of sleep a night is associated with low bone mineral density (BMD) and a higher chance of developing osteoporosis. The study is one of the largest to be undertaken around the subject of sleep, with more than 11,000 participants. It specifically focused on the impact of sleeplessness for postmenopausal women.
Lead author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the School of Public Health and Health Professions, Heather Ochs-Balcom, gave her take on the study’s results, saying:
“Our study suggests that [lack of] sleep may negatively impact bone health, adding to the list of the negative health impacts of poor sleep. I hope that it can also serve as a reminder to strive for the recommended seven or more hours of sleep per night for our physical and mental health.”
According to the study, women who slept five or less hours a night had significantly lower bone density across four categories – whole body, hip, spine and neck – compared to those who slept seven hours or more. The different observed was equivalent to a whole year of aging.
The best sleeping position for your spine
So we know that quality sleep is good for our bones, but what’s the best position when it comes to supporting your spine and avoiding back pain?
It’s bad news for people who tend to sleep on their front, as this is considered by experts to be one of the worst positions for spinal health, putting unnecessary pressure on your neck and spine as you keep your head turned.
It’s worth noting that many people can spend their life happily lying on their front through the night with little to no negative effect. However, depending on the natural curvature of your spine, front sleeping is typically considered to be the highest risk for back issues.
Instead, it is often recommended to try falling asleep on your back – ideally with one pillow under your knees and one behind your head to retain a level posture. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to give the bottom of your spine some extra support. Getting into the habit of sleeping in the right position can benefit your spinal health in the long run.