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How to Get Good Sleep with a Bad Back

April 26, 2017

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” — Sydney J. Harris.

Change. Change is scary. It's new and well anything unknown can be a little frightening. We aren't talking about changing your zip code or changing the color of your hair. We are talking about a simple change that can have a positive domino effect on your quality of life — changing your bedtime routine.

You may be thinking, “If all we are talking about is updating what time I go to bed, how can that possibly have a positive change on my life?” The truth is, it may not, but on the other hand, maybe it will.

Let's backtrack for a moment.

Ever notice after a night of tossing and turning, counting sheep or even your ceiling pattern, that you wake up feeling more back pain — as if that's possible? You try to lay still pretending to be asleep in an attempt to not wake your significant other (we've all done it), but the truth is, you are from it.

When it's finally morning and you have to start your day, you find yourself a little more annoyed from a lack of a good night's sleep. Have you been there? There's an actual connection between back pain and sleep (and the bad days that follow). They go hand-in-hand.

“We don’t take sleep seriously enough,” said Michael J. Sateia, M.D., medical director of the Sleep Disorders Service at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. “It’s essential to life. If you disrupt the sleep cycle, you could face grave health repercussions throughout your body.”

Getting enough sleep may eliminate health risks, but which ones? Let's examine them.

Your Mind

What does a bad night's sleep mean to your health? Low-quality sleep or sleep deprivation may negatively impact your mood, which then instills consequences for learning, the ability to retain information, and even motivation levels.

Dr. Sateia added, “Findings indicate that although people may appear to forget much of their learning over the course of a day, a night’s sleep will restore it; moreover, sleep protected the memory from loss over the course of the next day. In other words, sleep can dramatically affect the way you live…and remember it!”

When you don't sleep well, it carries over and can affect the rest of your day, specifically a lack of focus, increased anxiety, and even feelings of depression.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety causes sleeping problems, and new research suggests sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder. Research also shows that some form of sleep disruption is present in nearly all psychiatric disorders. Studies also show that people with chronic insomnia are at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder.”

Your Body

Sorry for any fast food lovers (Backernation included), but one huge negative impact of poor sleep is weight gain. Weight gain on a bad back has been proven to create new or more intense symptoms. An overweight core places pressure on your back and spine increasing your chances of prolonged back pain.

Dr. John Schmidt II, a brain, and spine specialist at Neurological Associates, Inc in Charleston, West Virginia said, “If you want to have a strong back, you need to have a strong core.”

The inability to fall or stay asleep is the most common sleep complaint among Americans.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Eating or drinking too much at night can contribute. Alcohol and caffeine, particularly near bedtime, can worsen insomnia symptoms dramatically.”

“Going to bed hungry, however, can also trigger sleep problems. Your best bet may be an evening snack containing carbohydrates and protein, such as cereal and milk. These foods promote calmness.”

Excess weight can also affect your ability to receive selective back surgeries. If you can't obtain the proper treatment — in this case, surgery — you may not get the relief you need.

It's All About a Sleep Schedule

For the iOS and Android users alike — SleepyTime is an app designed to help you monitor your sleep activity, analyze your sleep cycles in addition to waking you at your desired rising time.

Created by David Shaw, a 24-year-old director of engineers at Redspin — a computer security corporation located in Santa Barbara, California explained that he first created it, "As a project for my own use, so that when I had to get up or fall asleep at strange times, I didn’t need to do any math in my head.”

For any of the iOS users, maybe you remember seeing an update to your alarm clock app — Apple's new Bedtime feature.

Apple introduced a new feature in iOS 10 called 'Bedtime' in 2016. It may be used to remind you to go to bed and make sure you get the desired amount of sleep. It also has some much nicer alarm sounds than the standard iPhone ringtones, making waking up slightly more enjoyable. If you do not use iOS software, do not worry — we have you covered.

If you are a Droid-er and do not prefer the SleepyTime app, consider checking out the Android app store for two other sleep options — both of which are free.

Sweet Dreams is an app designed to help you sleep better. It allows you set what time you go to sleep and what time you typically wake up. From there, you can set various actions for sleep mode, such as silencing your ringer, changing your screen timer, and disabling Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The app provides location, motion and sound settings as well.

Timeriffic has similar features as Sweet Dreams, but can be used for more than just bedtime. It lets you create multiple profiles for saving various phone settings; set one for bedtime when the ringers are turned off, and set another for when you’re in an office meeting.

With so many distractions, it's not uncommon that people everywhere have terrible sleep schedules. Whether you don't get enough sleep, can't fall sleep, are in too much back pain to even consider sleeping, or maybe you drank a caffeinated beverage a little too late in the day, it can be difficult to establish a night time routine.

Your back pain may posses a challenge that doesn't permit you to go to bed at the same time every day. Sometimes, you just can't get comfortable enough or aren't ready to turn off that amazing new TV show yet. What you have to do is alter your activities after 9:00 p.m.


First things first: Start by establishing a bedtime routine. We all have habits — make this your new habit. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Follow a routine such as setting your alarm (or using the suggested bedtime apps), putting on your pajamas and brushing your teeth.

Start unwinding — even if you feel the pressure of your back pain — whether you are ready or not. By entering sleep mode, your brain will be that much more ready to rest when you go to lay your head down. You'll also find that your body will begin to adjust and know to wind down when you begin the routine.

Do not read, work, or watch TV in bed for at least an hour before you plan to sleep. Allow your bed to be your happy dream place. In fact, a study of nearly 850 (18–94 years old) adults reported that using a mobile phone after turning the lights off was associated with poor sleep quality, increased insomnia, and heightened symptoms of fatigue. If you must lay in bed with a device, use sleep mode. This turns off the blue lights that keep your brain in “daytime” mode.

"People are exposing their eyes to this stream of photons from these objects that basically tells your brain, 'Stay awake! It's not time to go to sleep yet,'" said Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine.

Avoid stress. Stress is a major cause of insomnia and is also associated with chronic back pain. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Anxiety and depression can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Consequent sleep loss can lead to increased pain. Anxiety and depression may also increase a person’s sensitivity to pain.”

If you are feeling stressed or can't fall asleep because of any stressful thoughts, try deep breathing exercises. Simply take a deep breath through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and exhale for four seconds. Repeat until you feel calm.

Sounds. Another suggestion is to focus your attention on a specific sound. Consider adding a sound machine to your regimen, or download a sound app for your phone. Sound machines produce soothing sounds, such as music, rain, wind, highway traffic, and ocean waves mixed with—or modulated by— white noise. White noise resembles that of an air conditioner or fan. Before you know it, you feel calmer and ready to fall asleep.

Aromatherapy. Adding essential oils to your natural wellness cabinet can do wonders for your health as well as for your emotional state. They contain tiny molecules that have the ability to support systems in your body returning them to its natural physiological state. These oils contain healing properties and penetrate damaged cells by entering into the body to work on the root cause. There are a number of essential oils that provide relief not only from the discomfort but also anxiety and stress so that you can relax.

  • Peppermint: Soothing and cooling, the fragrant Peppermint is the perfect pain-reliever. It is both anti-inflammatory and analgesic. This will help with muscles and joint pain, headaches, arthritis, rheumatism, and tendinitis.
  • doTERRA's Soothing Blend: A blend of several oils including Wintergreen, Blue Tansy, Blue Chamomile, Peppermint, Ylang, and, Helichrysum that work together to soothe and cool your joints and muscles.
  • Lavender: It is both an anti-inflammatory and a sedative (which will relax while it reduces swelling). It will help with muscle tension, spasms, joint pain, headaches, and tendinitis.
  • Sweet Marjoram: Too much of this one could put you to sleep, so use in small doses (increase incrementally until you are pain-free but still awake). It is an analgesic as well as a powerful sedative. This will help with tension, muscle pain, stiffness, rheumatism, arthritis, headaches, and tendinitis while promoting sleepiness.
  • Wintergreen: This lovely essential oil contains the same root component as aspirin – salicylate – and has cortisone-like properties. It is analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic. It will help with arthritis, rheumatism, tendinitis, muscle aches and pain.

Move. Move. Shake. Shake.

Consider soothing exercises. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to work out before bed, we aren't talking about running a mile, rather light stretching.

  1. Upside-Down Relaxation (time: 2 minutes)
    1. Sit facing a wall (or your headboard) with your butt about six inches away from it.
    2. Lie back and extend your legs up the wall.
    3. If this is too intense a stretch for your hamstrings, slide your butt farther away from the wall.
    4. If it's not enough, scoot closer.
    5. Let your arms rest by your sides, palms facing up, and breath gently, feeling the stretch in the backs of your legs.
  2. Nighttime Goddess Stretch (time: 3-5 minutes)
    1. Lie on your back with knees bent.
    2. Place the soles of your feet together, then let your knees fall open, forming a diamond shape with your legs.
    3. Rest your arms on the bed.
    4. If you feel any strain, elevate your legs by placing a pillow underneath each knee.
  3. Rock-a-Bye Roll (time: 7-8 minutes)
    1. Lying on your back, hug knees into chest.
    2. Cross your ankles and wrap both arms around your shins with clasped hands.
    3. Inhale and rock your body up to sit; exhale as you roll back.
    4. Continue for one minute, then roll back, extend arms and legs, and drift off to sleep.
  4. Child's Pose (time: 5-7 minutes)
    1. Sit up comfortably on your heels.
    2. Roll your torso forward, bringing your forehead to rest on the bed in front of you.
    3. Lower your chest as close to your knees as you comfortably can, extending your arms in front of you.
    4. Hold the pose and breathe.

The End Justifies the Means

Consider updating your mattress or pillow sets. Studies show that a medium-firm mattress is best for most people. The key is to use what is comfortable for you. If your mattress is too firm, you can add an ‘egg crate’ foam mattress pad for additional cushion. Pillows come in all shapes and sizes. Find the one that's right for you. If you don't know which one works for you, try them all. There's no limitation on how many pillows you can use or try out.

Sometimes it's easier said than done but sleep in a position that's comfortable for you. It's not as if you are getting graded on how many positions it takes for you to fall asleep — so try as many as you need. If you aren't comfortable, chances are it will be that much harder to fall asleep.

Backers, do not sleep on your stomach, as it causes you to arch your back and bending backward often worsens any of your chronic back pain. Grab those awesome pillows and try side sleeping with a pillow in-between your knees. The pillow in-between your knees is key to maintain proper alignment AND it's just that much more comfortable — don't take our word for it — try it.

BackerNation took it to the experts to find out what life factors contribute to your lack of sleep, how to make falling and staying asleep easier as well as tips on getting the most out of night time. Did you find any of the above text helpful? Did you think of one that we may have missed?

Share with us what it is. After all, sleep is something we should look forward to, not dread. Please share any other thoughts in the comment section below — who knows, you may just help another Backer sleep well — as simple as that sounds, you already know sleep affects everything else. We are in this together people!

Remember Backers, "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but — on building the new.”

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