Dealing with the Challenge – How to Sleep with Scoliosis

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Scoliosis is more common than you may think. Many people find themselves wondering how to sleep with scoliosis – or the best position to sleep with scoliosis. If you or a loved one suffers from the pain and discomfort associated with this condition, then sleeping can be a bit of a challenge. To top it all off, you might be even prescribed to sleep with a back brace.

With thoughtful consideration for people adversely affected by this limiting disorder, we have created a complete guide to further explain what scoliosis is, the people at risk, treatment options, and ways to cope particularly in getting a regular good night’s sleep.

After going over these tips, we hope you’d be in a better position to deal with the difficulties especially during the night and to have the best possible rest for someone with scoliosis.

What is Scoliosis?

a doctor checking a scoliosis patient

Before we dive right in, we should first understand the term. Scoliosis is defined as a lateral curvature of the spinal column. The affected spine can be C or S-shaped causing uneven shoulder blades, hips, or waist. A healthy backbone runs a visually straight line down the center of your back. With scoliosis, the spine’s curve goes from side to side.

Most cases of scoliosis are barely visible or without any pain, and may not require any treatment. Only about 10% are moderate to severe.

Typically, scoliosis in small children occurs during a growth spurt and may develop before or during puberty. In certain cases, the spinal deformities increase in severity with age and the pain can intensify as well. That is why a patient’s remaining growing years is important in determining the best intervention.

What are the Risk Factors?

Who is most likely to have scoliosis and why? Below are three factors that could place you at a higher risk.

  • Age: As we have mentioned, age has a lot to do with your chances of developing scoliosis. The majority of cases begin to emerge while a child is still in her mother’s womb. While some are diagnosed at an early age, the condition is often detected in children between the ages of 10 and 15.
  • Biological sex: Both boys and girls are affected by scoliosis. However, if improperly treated and not promptly addressed, girls are more prone to severe spinal deformities.
  • Heredity or genetics: Most people diagnosed with scoliosis do not have a family history of the disorder. Even so, some patients believed to have acquired this abnormality through inherited genes because of the high rate of recurrence within the family.

How is Scoliosis Treated?

a girl with a back corrector

As we have discussed before, mild cases of scoliosis often do not need treatment, but it is always best to consult with your physician before assuming that you or a loved one doesn’t need any professional advice.

In some instances, a back brace may be prescribed to help realign the spine. Braces are usually lightweight and can be worn under your shirt. Some braces like the Boston-type should be worn for at least 16 hours for optimum results. Another type, the Providence brace, is intended for nighttime use. It’s the next option for patients who can’t comply with the time requirement for Boston-type. These back braces though are not guaranteed to cure scoliosis but only to delay the progression of the curve.

Scoliosis can be disabling, going beyond mere chronic neck and back pain. Aside from the physical burden, there are emotional ramifications such deformities will bring. Early detection and treatment will lessen the pain and other possible complications such as breathing problems.

Scoliosis and Sleep

Scoliosis often causes chronic back or neck pain and an inappropriate resting position can aggravate the problem, particularly if you are lying on the wrong mattress or with the wrong pillows. The position you sleep in could also be causing unnecessary strain to your back and neck.

Unfortunately, melatonin deficiencies are not unusual in scoliosis patients. Melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical in your brain that helps trigger and regulate your sleep-wake cycles. If your brain produces a decreased amount of melatonin, you may find it harder to fall or stay asleep. Thus, it becomes difficult to feel refreshed in the morning.

So, the main question now is how to sleep with scoliosis while minimizing the pain that patients often complain about.

Good and Bad Sleeping Positions

There is no specific scoliosis sleeping position. However, some are considered to be better than others if you have this disorder. This section will briefly cover various sleeping positions and its pros and cons when it comes to sleeping with scoliosis. Always remember that your comfort and preference matters most. Do what feels best for your body. The following are merely suggestions.

1. Sleeping on Your Back

This is generally considered the best sleeping position for scoliosis. Lying flat on your back naturally aligns your spine while distributing your weight evenly, reducing unnecessary pressure on your spine. Try adding small pillows or rolled-up towels underneath your body to further eliminate pain or pressure in targeted areas. We recommend a rolled towel under your neck, shoulders, lower back, or knees. Experiment a bit and see what combination works best for your spine.

2. Side Sleeping

side sleeping with pillows

Sleeping on your side could be the next best position if you have scoliosis. However, some patients complain that they wake up in the morning with more aches and pains when they sleep on their side. You can minimize the discomfort by applying the rolled-up towel technique if you’re lacking in small pillows. Try inserting one between or underneath your knees to relieve the pressure on your hips. You may also want to try placing one under your spine to help counteract the curves and provide additional support while you sleep.

3. Dozing off on Your Stomach

Even with the aid of pillows, resting on your stomach is not advisable if you have scoliosis because it forces you to twist your head and neck in one direction for an extended time. Such an incorrect position will cause unnecessary stress on your spine and, therefore, must be avoided. Aim for a position that will lessen the pain and work well with your back and neck.

Perfect Sleeping Environment

Another way to improve your sleep quality is through creating a peaceful and relaxing environment conducive for resting. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and has minimal, or preferably without any stimulus to prevent you from drifting off to sleep.

See to it that your bedroom is cool and dark. Use thick curtains and turn off the lights to help trigger your sleep-wake cycle. Also, keep it cooler than normal. Most people sleep better, longer, and deeper with a temperature between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider installing an air-conditioning unit to regulate your room’s temperature especially during summer.

You may also want to initiate a bedtime routine. This will aid your brain and body to recognize that it is time to get ready for bed, even if you have a decreased amount of melatonin. Additionally, relaxing scents, like lavender, can help prepare you for relaxation and sleep.

Sleep Aids for Scoliosis

Rolled up towels are a great supplemental tool when it comes to relieving pain and pressure on your spine and surrounding muscles. You may also want to try a more sturdy solution like a small pillow. A thin cushion placed beneath your shoulder blades may serve well as a scoliosis pillow for deformities on the upper back. With scoliosis, strategically-arranged pillows can make a big difference and provide more support than your mattress alone.

Tips on How to Find the Right Mattress

a woman checking an orthopedic mattress

Due to the irregularity in scoliosis patients’ spines, sleeping on a firm mattress with ample support is highly recommended. The right mattress should enhance a spine’s alignment not make the condition worse. Considering that you spend a significant amount of time in bed, lying on the right mattress is something that should not be overlooked. Furthermore, a substandard mattress could do more harm to a patient’s back rather than provide a comfortable resting surface.

Take into account the following traits in a mattress for a sound and painless slumber:

1. Ease of Access

Place this on the top of your checklist. Choose a height that works for you. It should not be too high or too low that it causes you pain every time you get in or out of the bed.

2. Contour

Contour is important for scoliosis patients because it conforms to your shape and relieves pressure exactly where you don’t want it. You may find a mattress’ ability to contour helpful especially when the curve gets a bit too painful. Coupled with strategically positioned pillows, it will help you settle in a more comfortable position.

3. Motion Isolation

A mattress’s ability to effectively absorb movements should likewise be given the utmost consideration. It will keep you from being jarred or disturbed in the night due to someone else’s tossing or turning. A huge pillow tucked under your back won’t come close to a bed with motion isolation.

4. Temperature Regulation

Breathability in a mattress will ensure you do not feel hot all through the night. A mattress that allows sufficient air movement will prevent restlessness, discomfort, and disrupted sleep.

5. Support and Firmness

These two are the most important traits to search for in a bed for scoliosis. If you are aiming to slow down the growth of your curve, it is best to choose a firm to “medium-firm” mattress. It must have the ability to push back against the protruding sections of your body to help realign the curvature. Solid support will guarantee more restful evenings and lesser aches or pain compared to sleeping on a soft mattress.

To Sum It All Up

Sleeping with scoliosis equates to waking up with all sorts of discomfort that may leave you uncomfortable and cranky all day. However, if you know how to sleep with scoliosis, there is a good chance of improving the situation and start your day right.

We recommend resting in a sleep-conducive environment with a cool temperature and zero distractions, using pillows or towels to help you settle more comfortably while you slumber, resting on either your back or side and choosing a firm mattress with ample support for your spine.

Of course, you should always do what feels best for you. After all, everyone is as different as cases of scoliosis are. You will undoubtedly come across numerous tips to deal with this condition but in the end, it is what your body needs that matter most. Listen closely to your body and it will help you to make the right decisions. Have a great night!

Additional Resources

Emily Alexander
Emily Alexander

Emily Melynn Alexander was born on the east coast of the USA but has called Colorado home since 2000. She has a degree in English and Political Science from Metropolitan State University of Denver. She enjoys sleeping in locations all around the world.

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