Back pain is the most common of all muscle complaints and effects half of all working Americans each year. The good news is that most cases of back pain are what are known as mechanical or uncomplicated back pain – meaning it’s not caused by underlying issues such as infection, arthritis or fractures. A wide variety of treatments are available for back pain but one common factor in all cases is the need for sleep and rest. Below we take a look at the importance of sleep for helping your back muscles recover.

Minor muscle injuries

While a muscle tears, pulls and strains are usually classified as minor injuries, it doesn’t stop them for feeling pretty major. Minor muscle injuries in the back are likely to cause pain when standing straight, sitting, turning or even when resting. Causes for damage to our back muscles are almost as varied as the people who experience it. Overreaching, falling awkwardly, suddenly changing direction or speed when playing sport and numerous other incidents can all result in damage to our back muscles.

In most cases, these kinds of injuries are easily treated despite the severe pain they can cause. In many cases, the best treatment for injuries to back muscles from overreaching or strains from lifting or moving awkwardly is rest. Rest and sleep enable the body to repair damage to the muscles and heal in its own time.

The role of sleep in healing

Sleep plays an important role in healing for all parts of our body. This is because while we sleep, many changes occur in our brain and body, all of which work to restore us from the day we’ve had and prepare us for the day ahead.

An increase in blood flow to our muscles occurs when we fall into stages three and four of sleep. This slow wave sleep period triggers our pituitary gland to release growth hormones, prolactin, and leptin. Prolactin regulates inflammation while leptin, primarily associated with appetite control, also helps to increase skeletal muscle mass. This increase of blood flow combined with the discharge of growth hormone, prolactin, and leptin works to stimulate muscle repair and growth.

Getting enough sleep is essential for providing the time our body needs to produce and supply injured areas with the hormones, nutrients and oxygen required to make the necessary repairs.

Sleeping with back pain

It’s all very well and good to understand the need for sleep when you are suffering from back pain. It can be quite another to actually get to sleep when you’re suffering from a back injury.

Finding the right position when sleeping can have a huge impact on how well you sleep and also whether further damage will be sustained by the already painful back muscles. Proper mattress support is just part of the solution to getting a comfortable and uninterrupted night’s rest with back pain.

Sleeping on your back is the best position for aiding the restoration of back muscles. It is the most natural position for reducing stress on your spine and neck. Sleeping on your side inevitably causes pressure on the lower lumbar area and hunched shoulders. However, the worst position for sleeping with back pain is on your stomach. Not only does this put stress on your back, it also puts pressure on your knees.

Taking care of our bodies and backs should include preventative measures. Remaining active, remembering to warm up and cool down before exercise and maintaining a healthy diet and weight are all important. Sleep and the position we choose for rest also impacts our health and should be prioritized along with exercise and diet.

Amanda Lasater is on the editorial and research team at, a mattress reviews site with the mission to help each person find their best sleep ever.

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