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A Good Nights Sleep: Mattress, Pillows and Sleeping Position

by Jane Hodgson 7 December 2009


Sleeping in a poor position or on an unsupportive mattress places a lot of stress on the back neck and shoulders and can lead to pain. This article explains how to choose the correct mattress and pillow and the best sleeping positions

Frequently back and neck pain can be eased by the use of an appropriate mattress and pillows

What's the Best Mattress to Stop Low Back Pain and Neck Pain?

The best position for the spine at night is to be gently supported in spine neutral, this means that the spine maintains its natural curves.

If using a sprung mattress lie down on your side, you need the hips and shoulders to sink in a little so the spine stays straight. Too hard and the hips and shoulders don't sink meaning the waist drops down onto the mattress curving the spine. Too soft and your spine doesn't get enough support.

What's the Best Sleeping Position to Stop Low Back Pain and Neck Pain?

Sleeping on your side:

  • This is generally considered to be the healthiest sleeping position for your spine
  • Use a pillow between your knees to stop the top leg dropping down and causing rotation at the spine.

Sleeping on your back:

  • You may wish to place a pillow under your knees. This tilts the pelvis and takes some pressure of your spine.

Sleeping on your front:

  • This is the position most likely to cause neck problems. Avoid sleeping on your front if you can.
  • If you do sleep on your front try not to turn your neck too far to the side. Placing a pillow under your chest may help you to achieve this.

What's the Best Pillow to Stop Low Back Pain and Neck Pain?

A quality pillow of the correct size will make a huge difference in the amount of neck pain suffered

  • If sleeping on your side the pillow should be thick enough to support your spine in a neutral position. Look for a pillow that is fills the depth from your ear to shoulder without pushing your head up, or letting it drop down.
  • When sleeping on your front its best not to use a pillow.

How do I Choose a Mattress to Stop Low back Pain and Neck Pain?

  • Get the best quality mattress that you can afford – your spine will spend a lot of time on it in the years to come.
  • A quality sprung mattress is a good option. The amount of springs is one of the key factors. The more springs there are the more individual support each area of the body will get.
  • Don’t rush into buying a mattress take your book and pillow along to the showroom and don’t be shy to have a lie down for a while.
  • If you are not going to be sleeping alone make sure you and your partner try the bed out together. If one partner is significantly heavier than the other consider a two part mattress that zips together in the middle

How Often do I Need to Change my Mattress to Stop Low Back Pain and Neck Pain?

  • If you start to get a more uncomfortable nights sleep, or wake with increasing amounts of back pain or stiffness it may be time to change your mattress.
  • Look at the mattress without sheets on, if there are big hollows that don’t recover when you lake your weight off then it may be time to change your mattress.
  • A good sprung mattress will have a lifespan of around 10 years.

What about Memory Foam for Low Back Pain and Neck Pain?

Memory foam is a substance that conforms to your body weight and heat to provide all areas of the body in contact with the mattress with equal support, a quality memory foam mattress should support the spine in a comfortable spine neutral position


Where can I buy Quality Pillows and Memory Foam Products?

Physioroom and physio supplies have memory foam pillows

Sleeping Solutions stock a range of memory foam and sprung mattresses

Disclaimer: The information on this page is written to help you adapt and improve your sleeping situation. There are many possible causes for low back and neck pain and should you have any concerns you should always seek advice from a qualified health professional such as a Chartered Physiotherapist or your GP.

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About the author

Jane Hodgson - Chartered Physiotherapist Jane Hodgson Jane specialises in lower body injuries and has raced competitively in running, orienteering and adventure racing.

Did you know

Giraffes only need to sleep for 20 minutes at a time. Good job really because think how many pillows they would need to support their necks!

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