Like a dream: How to adjust your sleeping position

Published by PhysioExtra, June 18, 2021

For neck and back pain relief

Do you have back or neck pain? Do you wake up feeling sore? Have you considered that your sleeping position might be to blame? Here are some tips along with two downloadable exercise programs to help ease your aches and pains and have you sleeping like a dream!

How to choose the best sleeping position for you

For back pain

If you have back pain, the ideal sleeping position is likely to be on your side. You can place a pillow between your legs to avoid twisting your spine, which can exacerbate your pain. The most important thing is to not feel pressure on your back and to be comfortable.

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You can also sleep on your back if you are comfortable in this position. However, because your back is more arched, you may experience some pain or discomfort. If this occurs, you can try placing a thin pillow under your knees to relieve the pressure you feel in your back and see if the pain subsides.

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You should, however, avoid sleeping on your stomach as this position keeps your spine extended and slightly rotated. Spending a full night sleeping on your stomach can be quite hard on an already sore back. If this is the only position you feel comfortable sleeping in, try this compromise: Using several pillows—or a body pillow—under the belly and pelvic area, place yourself in a “three-quarter” position, which is halfway between the stomach and side positions.

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For neck pain

If you have neck pain, you should avoid sleeping with your arms above your head, regardless of your preferred sleeping position. This habit can create tension in the nervous and muscular systems and increase your neck pain. It can also cause you to feel tingling and numbness in your hands when you wake up.

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To relieve neck or shoulder pain, try placing a pillow under your arms. If you sleep on your side, place the pillow under your top arm. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, it’s usually more comfortable to sleep on your other shoulder and to support the sore one with a pillow instead. If you sleep on your back, position the pillow under your arm so that it supports your hand on your stomach.

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Pay special attention to the alignment of your neck in your preferred sleeping position. To avoid muscle tension, your neck should be supported—not tilted up or down—regardless of whether you sleep on your side or back.

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sommeil dos oreiller trop mince   sommeil dos oreiller trop Ă©pais   sommeil dos bon alignement cou

Again, it’s best to avoid sleeping on your stomach since your neck is extended and rotated in this position. If this is the only position you can fall asleep in, you can try the same compromise as for lower back pain: Using several pillows—or a body pillow—under the belly and pelvic area, place yourself in a “three-quarter” position, which is halfway between the stomach and side positions. This position will help reduce the rotation of the neck slightly.


Comfort is the most important thing to consider when choosing a sleeping position. Some people can sleep in any position, while others can only sleep in one particular way. Choose the one that allows you to feel most comfortable while drifting off to sleep. You can then adjust your sleeping position to relieve any pain.

A technique for turning over in bed:

  1. Bend your legs.
  2. Raise your pelvis slightly.
  3. Slowly turn over using your arms and legs.

A technique for getting out of bed:

  1. Turn over on your side.
  2. Swing your legs off the bed.
  3. Use your arms to raise yourself into a sitting position.

This technique will decrease the strain on your neck and back muscles and should reduce your pain. Because our muscles take some time to wake up in the morning, their ability to contract is limited.

Choosing your pillow

Again, the most important thing when selecting a pillow is comfort. The pillow should support your head and adapt to the shape of your neck so that the latter is properly aligned. You will probably need a thinner pillow if you sleep on your back, and a thicker one if you sleep on your side. If you like to alternate between these two positions during the night, opt for a more malleable pillow that adjusts in thickness.

Choosing your mattress

Comfort is the main criterion when choosing a mattress. If you have neck or back pain, we recommend a mattress that is neither too firm nor too soft to avoid muscle spasms during the night. A tip if you sleep next to your partner: Your significant other rolling over in bed shouldn’t cause you to move. And if you feel your body tilting to one side when you’re both lying down, this is a sign that your mattress is too soft.

Your nighttime and morning routines

An hour before bed and just after waking up, it’s recommended to do relaxation exercises or light stretching to relieve muscle tension. Opt for painless movements and perform them slowly. The goal is not to extend as far as possible, but to loosen up gently—aim for a slight stretching sensation. Keep in mind that it is perfectly normal to feel a little bit stiff in the morning.

Download our free exercise programs to help relieve back or neck pain.

DOWNLOAD THE EXERCISES FOR BACK PAINDOWNLOAD THE EXERCISES FOR NECK PAINThese tips should help you feel more comfortable when you sleep. Give them a try!


Article written by Catherine Mireault-Germain, physiotherapist

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