People living with scoliosis may find it challenging to get into a comfortable sleeping position and maintain it throughout the night. Sleeping with scoliosis may feel like an insurmountable task, but there are a few tricks to help you rest comfortably.
Just 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 less than 20 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 the result of conditions like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, but 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. There’s typically no pain involved in the early stages of scoliosis, so doctors evaluate x-rays or perform physical examinations looking for unevenness in the shoulders, waist, and hips.
The Effect of Scoliosis on Sleep
People with scoliosis often report experiencing fatigue and sleeplessness. Although many things can cause insomnia, idiopathic scoliosis is linked to genetic deficiencies that may make sleeping difficult for some individuals. Teens with idiopathic scoliosis also have low melatonin levels, so they may have trouble falling asleep. In addition, scoliosis can cause poor pulmonary function, resulting in impaired breathing during sleep.
Poor sleep quality is common among those with scoliosis due to the pain and pressure they usually go to bed with. However, the actual magnitude of the spine’s curve doesn’t have much effect on sleep quality, meaning that anyone with scoliosis, regardless of how severe it is, could potentially struggle with sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness.
Scoliosis Sleeping Tips
1. Get a Supportive Mattress
While a bad mattress won’t make scoliosis worse, you’re not doing your back any favors by lying on a bed that’s unsupportive. Further, it could make your symptoms worse and your pain more pronounced.
While soft and cushy mattresses are tempting, you’ll be better off with a medium-firm or 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. As your bed gets older, it can start sagging and not provide the support you need. A mattress topper could give you additional lift for spinal alignment and may even extend your mattress’ life for another year or more.
2. Avoid Sleeping On Your Stomach
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, but 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.
3. Sleep On Your Back or Side
Many scoliosis patients find that sleeping on their backs is the best way to keep their spine neutral. However, you should avoid creating too much pressure on the lower back. Therefore, 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, and your spine should remain relatively flat and parallel to the bed.
Get More Info: How To Properly Sleep On Your Back and check out our expert suggested Best Mattresses for Back Sleepers.
The advantage of side sleeping for patients with scoliosis is that this position is 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
4. Use Pillows for Support
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. Instead, 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, people with scoliosis may experience numbness in the shoulder areas, so 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.
Consult with your doctor to make sure you’re using pillows to support you properly and not doing your spine any harm by putting it at an inappropriate angle. A lack of knowledge could lead to increased pain or discomfort.
View Our Guide: Best Pillow For Side Sleepers
5. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers 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 practice habits that support healthy sleep.
This process entails keeping the room dark, banning electronic devices, setting the temperature between 60 and 67 degrees, and using an essential oil diffuser with soothing, sleepy scents, like lavender.
Developing a regular nightly routine is also 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.
6. Try Sleeping Aids
We mentioned earlier that melatonin deficiency plays a role in the prognosis of idiopathic scoliosis2. With that said, melatonin supplements may help prevent the progression, more so in adolescents with mild scoliosis with a less than 35-degree curve. Melatonin deficiency can also make it difficult for you to fall asleep, so taking supplements could help prepare you for sleep.
Many people use melatonin to help promote better sleep. 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
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some natural ways to improve my scoliosis?
Patients with more severe cases of scoliosis are often seen wearing a back brace, which can be bulky and uncomfortable, thus making it harder to find a suitable sleep position. 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 scoliosis through exercise is also an option as it can help strengthen your surrounding muscles. Practicing a healthy diet is beneficial as well. Focus on consuming foods that help increase bone density, such as dairy products, dark leafy greens, nuts, fish, and beans.
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 helpful tip 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.
Is it good to sleep on the floor if you have scoliosis?
This position is not recommended because it doesn’t allow your back to align properly. Instead, people with scoliosis 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.
Is sleeping without a pillow good for scoliosis?
If you have scoliosis, you should try to sleep on your side or back, which is typically more comfortable with a pillow. Without one, your head and neck wouldn’t get the necessary support, throwing your spine out of alignment. This could worsen your scoliosis symptoms, pain, and pressure. On top of that, you may want to consider adding a pillow under your lower back if you’re a back sleeper or between your knees if you’re a side sleeper.
What can worsen scoliosis?
Scoliosis symptoms can worsen due to many factors, including certain yoga positions, competitive swimming, football, sleeping on your stomach, long-distance running, and carrying heavy things. In addition, sleeping with lights on may throw off your melatonin production, which can then worsen scoliosis. Being on your phone too much may also worsen scoliosis because the bent-head position pressures the spinal cord and may cause chronic neck pain, which causes scoliosis progression.
Scoliosis is progressive, which means it usually gets worse with age. However, it’s difficult to predict how much scoliosis will progress and after how many years. The condition is subject to unpredictable and quick changes, but the research was done on more serious cases only. Nonetheless, researchers believe mild cases advance just as rapidly, which is why fast action is crucial for scoliosis.
-  “Scoliosis”. Nemours Teens Health. 2017.
-  Machida, Masafumi., Dubousset, Jean., Yamada, Thoru., Kimura, Jun. “Serum melatonin levels in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis prediction and prevention for curve progression–a prospective study”. National Library of Medicine. 2009.
-  Li, Xingye., Guo, Haiwei., Chen, Chong., Tan, Haining., et. al. “Does Scoliosis Affect Sleep Breathing?”. National Libary of Medicine. 2018.
-  “FIRST SIGNS OF SCOLIOSIS AND WHAT TO DO WHEN THEY APPEAR TO STOP ITS PROGRESSION”. Align Clinic. Webpage accessed October 27, 2023.
-  “Scoliosis Do's and Don'ts”. ScoliSmart. Last modified October 28, 2021.
-  Dr. Irvine, Paul. “CAN SCOLIOSIS GET WORSE AS YOU AGE?”. UK Scoliosis Clinic. 2020.
Rachael is a content writer for Sleep Advisor who loves combining her enthusiasm for writing and wellness. She’s had a passion for writing since she was a kid when she wrote awful poetry. She’s honed her craft quite a bit since then and considers herself a lucky duck to get paid to do what she loves.
Embracing the remote work life, she occasionally takes her work on the road and lives out her travel writer pipe dream.
In her free time, she attempts to meditate regularly, rides her bike to Trader Joe’s, and enjoys trying every type of food that she can get her hands on.