Scoliosis and sleeping difficulties can often go hand-in-hand, leading to a variety of issues that can make it hard to get some shut-eye. If you or a loved one has scoliosis, you may be wondering what you can do to get ahead of these problems.
In this article, we hope to give you a better understanding of scoliosis and how it affects sleep. And here’s the kicker: We’ll equip you with useful tips for dealing with scoliosis at bedtime.
Keep in mind that we are not medical experts, so these recommendations should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend you ask any scoliosis-related questions to your healthcare provider.
What is Scoliosis?
As you probably know, scoliosis is a condition in which the spine is deformed at an angle. There are two types of scoliosis- structural and functional. Structural scoliosis is a genetic issue that progressively can get worse with age and under extreme angles has to be surgically intervened. Structural scoliosis can occur over time from bad habits such as sitting for long hours over time on one hip or as a result of postural issues that can be corrected by a physical therapist with stretches and exercises. It’s also the most common of spine abnormalities, as a 2006 study in the Paediatric Respiratory Review notes. (1)
To learn more about how scoliosis can negatively impact sleep, I spoke to Vivian Eisenstadt MAPT CPT MASP, an orthopedic and sports physical therapist at Vivie Therapy. She explained that each person with scoliosis experiences it differently, which is good to keep in mind when looking to alleviate its side effects. That said, the recommendations provided in this article are not one size fits all, as you or your loved one’s scoliosis will include its own special set of sleeping issues.
How Does Scoliosis Affect Sleep?
If you have scoliosis, you’re likely at a greater risk of developing sleep disorders. A 2018 study in World Neurosurgery stated having scoliosis means you’re more likely to have these two disorders:
- Sleep apnea: This is when the body goes through brief periods of no breathing when asleep.
- Hypopnea: This is when the body goes through brief periods of shallow breathing when asleep. (2)
Keep in mind that pain can also be a factor. Waqas Ahmad, a family medicine physician and leader of the medical advisory board at Insurecast notes that the pain scoliosis causes can make it difficult to get quality rest.
But is there anything that can be done about these issues?
Tips for Better Sleep with Scoliosis
Even though people suffering from scoliosis face multiple potential threats to their sleep, there are ways to lighten the load. I spoke with various medical experts who gave me some advice for sleeping with scoliosis. If you have scoliosis, consider the following tips:
1. Don’t sleep on your stomach.
Giuseppe Aragona, a general practitioner and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor, suggests you don’t sleep on your stomach. When you sleep on your stomach, you risk causing your neck to twist in an uncomfortable position thereby pulling on and adding undue stress throughout your spine.
2. Sleep on your back and/or side.
Dr. Lina Velikova, a medical advisor at Supplements101, says sleeping on your back is a great position to help with scoliosis. Speaking of lying on your back, she says, “Your neck, spine, hips and legs are properly aligned in this position, allowing you to sleep comfortably.” She also explains that back sleeping helps you breathe easier since you’ll have less pressure on your chest than if you were lying on your stomach. This also aids with the apnea mentioned above.
Because scoliosis curves the spine, Vivian says the condition can lead to more space between your spine and the bed. She suggests sleeping on the side where you have more of a curve in your lower back, which creates a space between your stomach and your mattress. Then tuck a small rectangular or cylindrical couch pillow in this space (more on using pillows ahead).
As a side note, if you’re a combination sleeper who switches between your back and your side at night, you’ll be able to experience the benefits of each position.
3. Use a medium firm mattress.
When I spoke with Dr. Velikova, she suggested sleeping on a mattress of medium firmness to provide proper support for your spine, legs, and hips. She recommends avoiding really soft mattresses that may not provide enough support for your spine.
I also spoke with Sashini Seeni, a general practitioner of medicine at DoctorOnCall, who agrees that mattresses should be supportive. To that end, Dr. Seeni recommends getting a thicker mattress, since mattresses can tend to sag (and be less supportive) over time.
4. Sleep with pillows, even if you wear a brace.
Dr. Ahmad notes the difference between thoracic scoliosis (in which sleeping on your back or side with a pillow could be helpful), and lumbar scoliosis. He says, “For lumbar scoliosis, a pillow underneath or above the lower back is very helpful.”
When sleeping on your side, Dr. Velikova suggests tucking your knees into your chest. Then place one pillow between your knees and another pillow under your waist for extra support.
Dr. Aragona agrees with using a pillow between your knees. In addition, recommends placing a pillow under your shoulder blades to relieve pressure.
What about if you wear a brace to bed? In this instance, Dr. Aragona recommends placing pillows under your legs to prevent the brace from pushing against your skin. In addition, when getting out of bed, he recommends sitting before you stand.
5. Take care of your brace (if applicable).
If you sleep with a brace, Dr. Seeni recommends using cornstarch to keep it dry. This can help you avoid ulcers or rashes that accumulated moisture can cause.
Also, if you tend to move around at night, she suggests going with less weighty braces. You won’t get as much of a leg workout at night, but that’s not really the point of sleep.
Last Word From Sleepopolis
We understand that everyone with scoliosis is going to experience it differently, so sleep issues will vary from one person to another. That said, all of these tips may not apply to everyone with scoliosis.
- Koumbourlis, A. Scoliosis and the respiratory system. Paediatric respiratory reviews, July, 2006
- Li, X et al. Does Scoliosis Affect Sleep Breathing? World Neurosurgery, Oct, 2018