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It’s hard enough to get a restful night of sleep without having a medical condition like scoliosis that can cause pain and discomfort.
If you have scoliosis, you may find that it’s challenging to get into a comfortable sleeping position and maintain it through the night. And if you’re wearing a back brace, the situation is even more exasperating.
The good news is that a few simple tweaks to your routine, pillows, and mattress can help you get a much better rest at night. We share our top sleeping tips for scoliosis sufferers. Many of these 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 more than 50 degrees. So, instead of the spine traveling down the body in a straight line, it could form a C or S shape. It’s not usually painful when it’s observed in children, but left uncorrected, it can cause pain 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, though in some cases it’s because of conditions like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
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 something that’s not supportive. Further, it could make your symptoms and pain more pronounced.
When you’re shopping for a new mattress, one of the things to look for is a sleep guarantee. This allows you to try the bed in your home for several nights to see if the bed is right for you. Many reputable companies offer a risk-free trial that’s 90 to 100 days.
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 can even out the surface of your bed and extend its useful life for a year or two while you figure out your next move.
The most important factor to consider is your comfort. Depending on the severity of your curvature and whether or you’re 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 biggest takeaway about sleeping positions for scoliosis is to avoid sleeping on your stomach, and instead opt for either your side or back.
Pillows for Support
Pillows can be helpful in keeping your spine in the proper alignment and ensuring your comfort throughout the night. For side sleepers, a pillow between the knees keeps the spine in a neutral position and prevents twisting.
The pillow you rest your head on should be relatively low-profile. This means that you don’t want to sleep on a mountain of pillows that throw your neck and back out of alignment. 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.
We’re not talking about cleanliness here. Instead, we’re referring to sleep hygiene. This term relates to your sleeping and bedroom habits. The best thing you can do to ensure a restful night (other than having the perfect mattress) is to transform your bedroom into a sanctuary 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 scents like lavender.
It’s also helpful to develop a regular nightly routine and stick to it as religiously as possible. Try going to bed at the same time each night and explore different nighttime 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 wedges are all suitable sleeping aids to help ease pain and keep you comfortable. Consult with your doctor to make sure you’re using them properly and not doing your spine any harm by putting it an angle that can increase pain levels or discomfort.
The best way to use sleeping aids is 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 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, consult with your doctor before beginning any regiment. Many people start with melatonin supplements, which naturally help people feel drowsy and fall asleep faster.
Scoliosis-Friendly Sleeping Positions
Many scoliosis patients find that sleeping on their backs is the best way to keep their spine neutral. The one thing to be careful of is creating too much pressure on the lower back. To avoid this sensation, we recommend placing pillows or rolled up towels under your shoulder blades or 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. Instead, your body should remain relatively flat.
The advantage of side sleeping for patients with scoliosis is that you can use gravity to help align your spine and allow the curve to sink into its proper position. For example, if the biggest curve is on the right side of your body, then sleep on your left side, and vice versa.
This position can be problematic even for the healthiest of individuals, so if you have scoliosis avoid sleeping on your stomach entirely. Not only does it cause your head and neck and twist at unnatural angles, it also causes your spine to arch and throws it out of alignment.
For people who insist on sleeping on their stomachs, we usually recommend placing a pillow under the pelvis to flatten the back and prevent the arch, but again, this is for healthy spines only.
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. These can be bulky, uncomfortable, and render finding a suitable sleeping position impossible. There are lighter weight options on the market that look and feel more like a wrap than an inflexible brace. These allow 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 can also improve your scoliosis naturally. Foods and herbs to try include kale, alfalfa, oregano, peppermint, and thyme.
What are some great exercises for this condition?
The best exercises for scoliosis are ones that will strengthen the back and core. We also 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 plank position and have your partner support you to keep your back level.
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.
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, push yourself up with your arms, and then swing your legs in one motion to the side of the bed. You’ll naturally be able to rise into a seated position and then stand up.
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.
Now that you’re armed with these helpful tips, we hope you’re able to notice a significant improvement in your sleep. Remember, no two cases or spines are the same. Experiment with different options, positions, and equipment to see what works best for you.
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Author: Sarah Cummings
I think we’re all nerds, but I’m probably the biggest nerd in the group. Put me nose deep in a spreadsheet and I'll start smiling.
I love to travel, hang out with positive people, and love cycling when I find the time!
My hope is that everyone who visits our site will walk away with a fresh perspective. I think too many people in society downplay the importance of sleep. In my opinion, it’s the difference between an average life and an amazing one.