People living with Scoliosis may find it challenging to get into a comfortable sleeping position and maintain it throughout the night due to their physical condition.
Sleeping with scoliosis may feel like an insurmountable task, but there are a few tricks to help you snooze comfortably.
The good news is that a few simple tweaks to your routine, pillows, and mattress could help you finally sleep with ease. We share our top sleeping tips for people with scoliosis, many of which require no special or expensive equipment, so you may be dreaming like a baby as soon as tonight.
What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a neuro-muscular condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the spine. The abnormality can range from 15 to over 50 degrees. Instead of the spine traveling down the body in a straight line, it could form a C or S shape. Scoliosis is not usually painful in mild cases or in children, however, when left uncorrected, it could cause pain or mobility issues in adults.
Doctors classify scoliosis as a symptom of an underlying condition in which the nervous system isn’t communicating properly with the spine. Most of the time, it’s unclear what’s causing this miscommunication. In some cases it’s because of conditions like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, however, because it’s in your genes you typically can’t control its development.
Symptoms usually appear in children between the ages of 10 to 14 as they enter a major growth spurt right before the onset of puberty. Because there’s typically no pain involved in the early stages of scoliosis, doctors evaluate x-rays or perform physical examinations looking for unevenness in the shoulders, waist, and hips.
Scoliosis Sleeping Tips
While a bad mattress won’t make scoliosis worse, you’re not doing your back any favors by laying on a bed that’s unsupportive. Further, it could make your symptoms worse and pain more pronounced.
While soft and cushy mattresses are tempting, you’ll be better off with a medium to medium-firm mattress that allows your spine to remain in a well-supported, neutral position.
When you’re shopping for a new mattress, one of the things to look for is a sleep trial. This allows you to try the bed in your home for a limited amount of time to see if the bed is right for you. Many reputable companies offer a risk-free trial that’s 90 to 365 days.
Check Out Our Guide: Top Rated Mattress for Scoliosis
If you’re not ready to buy a new bed, consider getting a mattress topper. If your bed is getting older, it could be sagging and not providing the support you need. A mattress topper could provide additional lift, helping with spinal alignment; and may even extend your mattress’ life for another year or more.
The most important factor to consider is your comfort. Depending on the severity of your curvature and whether or not you have other health challenges, you may prefer one position over the other.
We’ll discuss this in more detail in a later section. The most critical point about sleeping positions for scoliosis is to avoid sleeping on your stomach, which can throw your spine out of alignment or even hyperextend your spine, and opt for your side or back.
Read More: Why Sleeping On Stomach is Bad
Pillows for Support
The pillow you rest your head on should be relatively low-profile, but considering your sleep position when looking at pillows is essential. Pillows can be great for keeping your spine in proper alignment and help ensure your comfort all night long. You don’t want to sleep on a mountain of pillows that will throw your neck and back out of alignment, you want your spine and head to be as well aligned as possible.
For side sleepers, a pillow between the knees should help the spine stay in a neutral position and prevent twisting. Side sleepers can generally have thicker pillows, but stomach and back sleepers typically need a cushion with a smaller profile.
Also, many scoliosis sufferers experience numbness in the shoulder areas. Because of that, you may find it more comfortable to sleep on a pillow that you can easily adjust or squish into place to get the perfect angle, memory foam products can be excellent for these purposes.
View Our Guide: Best Pillow For Side Sleepers
We’re not referring to your cleanliness, we’re talking about sleep hygiene in relation to your sleeping and bedroom habits. The best thing you can do to ensure a restful night— other than having the perfect bed— is to transform your bedroom into a soothing sanctuary thoughtfully designed for sleep.
This process entails keeping the room dark, banning electronic devices, setting the temperature between 60 and 68 degrees, and using an essential oil diffuser with soothing, sleepy scents, like lavender.
Developing a regular nightly routine is also incredibly helpful, especially when followed consistently. For example, try going to bed at the same time each night and explore different bedtime rituals to induce drowsiness. These could include enjoying a warm cup of herbal tea, a meditation session, or 30 minutes curled up with a good book.
Pillows, towels, and wedge pillows are excellent sleeping aids to help ease pain and foster comfort. Consult with your doctor to make sure you’re using them properly and not doing your spine any harm by putting it at an inappropriate angle. Lack of knowledge could lead to increased pain or discomfort.
Learn More: How to Properly Use a Wedge Pillow
Use sleep aids as a way to close any gaps that form between your body and the mattress. For example, if you sleep on your back, you may find that there’s a gap in the lower back that can cause excess pressure on the spine.
Try rolling a small towel and placing it at the small of your back. You may have to experiment with different heights and thicknesses to find your sweet spot.
If you’re looking for medications to help you sleep, many people start with melatonin supplements, which naturally help people feel drowsy and fall asleep faster. However, sometimes melatonin can leave people drowsy if too much is taken, so we advise starting with a small dose. Consult your doctor to find what will work best for you.
Find Out More: Best Sleep Aid Supplements
Scoliosis-Friendly Sleeping Positions
Many scoliosis patients find that sleeping on their backs is the best way to keep their spine neutral. However, it’s critical to be careful of creating too much pressure on the lower back. To avoid this issue, we recommend placing pillows or rolled-up towels under your shoulder blades and at the base of your spine.
Make sure your pillow isn’t too high or low. You don’t want to be propped up or sinking down into the mattress. Your spine should remain relatively flat and parallel to the bed.
Get More Info: How To Properly Sleep On Your Back
The advantage of side sleeping for patients with scoliosis is that this position is generally considered to be relatively healthy for spinal alignment. However, for those with a more pronounced curve on one side or the other, consider how your spine is shaped; if the biggest curve is on the right side of your body, then sleep on your left side, and vice versa.
Find Out More: How to Properly Sleep on Your Side
This position can be problematic even for individuals with healthy spines, so if you have scoliosis we advise that you avoid sleeping on your stomach unless directed otherwise by your physician. Not only does it often cause your head and neck to twist at unnatural angles, it could also cause your spine to arch out of alignment.
For people who insist on sleeping on their stomachs, we usually recommend placing a pillow under the pelvis to better align the spine and prevent arching, but again, this is for healthy spines.
Want to know more? Check out our guide for the best pillow for stomach sleepers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some natural ways to improve my scoliosis?
Patients with more severe cases of scoliosis are often seen sporting a back brace which can be bulky, uncomfortable, and render finding a suitable sleeping position nearly impossible. However, there are lighter weight options on the market that look and feel more like a wrap than an inflexible brace. These allow for more natural movements and can be worn to bed.
Improving circulation through exercise can also be helpful. Certain foods are known to increase bone density and collagen production, which could also improve your scoliosis naturally. Foods like fruits, vegetables and organic meats are recommended to stop the progression of the condition.
What are some great exercises for this condition?
The best exercises for scoliosis are ones that will strengthen the back and core. We recommend the following stretches to help stabilize the spine and provide pain relief:
- Exercise ball stretch: Lie on your side with the ball pressing into your side. Your feet and one hand will remain on the floor for stabilization. The hand that’s not on the floor will stretch forward over your head. Start on one side, hold for 20 seconds, and then switch. Repeat three times.*
- Foam roller towel stretch: Lay across a foam roller that’s covered with a towel. You’ll be in the same position as the first exercise that you did on the ball.*
- Partner stretch: Lay on your stomach with your torso, head, and neck above the floor. Rise into a plank position and have your partner support you to keep your back level.*
*Keep in mind these should be performed delicately and only if comfortable. We advise you to seek a professional’s advice before doing any strenuous movements.
Any tips for sleeping with a back brace?
Your doctor may advise you to keep your back brace on at night. If that’s the case, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, you should be extra diligent about keeping it dry. If moisture gets in, it could cause skin ulcers or a rash. Another tip patients find helpful is to sleep on your back with a pillow under your legs. This prevents the brace from digging into your body.
Finally, you may have discovered that it can be difficult getting in and out of bed with a back brace. To make things less challenging, do something called the “reverse technique.” Instead of trying to sit up, roll to the side of the bed you wish to exit, face down, push yourself up with your arms, and then gently move your legs off the bed. You should be able to push yourself up and off the bed.
Can sufferers sleep on the floor?
This position is not recommended because it doesn’t allow your back to align properly. Instead, scoliosis sufferers should sleep on a mattress that is semi-firm and allows the curve of the spine to sink into the mattress while still being supported by a relatively firm surface.
Sources and References:
-  Suken A. Shah, “Scoliosis (for Teens) – Nemours KidsHealth”, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, July 2017
-  “Scoliosis Sleeping Tips and Best Sleeping Positions”, ScoliSMART Blog, July 9, 2021
-  “Reduce the Risk of Scoliosis Progression with Healthy Eating”, ScoliSMART Blog, July 9, 2021