Best Ways to Sleep for Upper Back Pain from Painting

Stiff back and neck from painting the house all weekend? Ease those weekend warrior pains and sleep better with this quick guide.

As weekend warriors kicking goals of painting the house, oiling the deck or completing whatever other home project we’ve got lined up for the end of the week, we totally know what it is like to suffer from back pain. Especially from painting and cleaning. While we all know that prevention is the best way to avoid those aches and pains, let’s face it: house painting is just not ergonomic.

You might be cramped up in corners with a paintbrush or over-reaching with a roller to get at that piece of ceiling, for hours on end. Unfortunately, back pain is a price we’re often willing to pay to get the job done. However, we might start wishing we didn’t neglect our bodies when we try to sink down into sleep. If you suffer from upper back pain, then you probably struggle to get comfortable at night, and wind up tossing and turning.


If upper back pain is preventing you from getting the relaxation you deserve, then now is the perfect time to do something about it. In this guide, we will show you the best ways to sleep for upper back pain so that you can wake up feeling refreshed and pain-free.

Don’t let your upper back pain ruin another night. Before you reach for the pain killers, try these steps for a better rest.

What You’ll Need for Better Sleep

Thankfully, you don’t need much to ensure that you get into the right position for pain relief. All it will take is a few extra pillows and some practice, and you’ll get there in no time.

That being said, it’s imperative that you select the right kind of pillow to provide the support you need. In some cases, you want a small one to fit underneath your knees or your back. In other instances, you might need a large, supportive pillow for your head and neck.

Every body type is different, so we suggest that you try a variety of pillows to find the one that works best for you. Also, keep in mind that most of them will flatten out over time, so be aware that you will have to change them on a regular basis.

Here are all of the pillows that you’ll need:
  • Large Pillow for Head and Neck
  • Small Support Pillow for Lower Back and/or Knees*
  • Medium-Sized Pillow for Between the Knees

Again, test a few different options so that you can be sure which one will produce your ideal results. Since the goal is better sleep, it’s essential that you take the time to find the perfect models for your body type. Otherwise, you may wind up right back where you started. Of course, if you are reading this in the middle of the night after a weekend of heavy work, then just test out whatever pillows you have on hand.

*If you don’t have a small pillow, try a rolled up towel for your lower back and knees instead. I learnt this trick from hospital midwives while I had terrible back pain during my pregnancy, and it works well.

pillows to ease upper back pain
Try a selection of different sized pillows to see what works for you. The bottom one is a maternity full body pillow.

Best Ways to Sleep for Upper Back Pain: Step-By-Step Guide  

For this guide, we will highlight the various sleeping positions in order of comfort and relief. Everyone’s body is different, so there is no single ‘best way’. Having said that, there should be one that works best for your situation; try the methods and see how they makes you feel. If one doesn’t work, then try one of the other positions.

With that in mind, since they are in order, we highly recommend that you go down the list from top to bottom. Unless you have extenuating circumstances, you should attempt the better sleeping positions before you try anything else. Doing it this way will help ensure that you find the proper position quickly and efficiently.

Position 1: Sleep on Your Back

Overall, sleeping this way is going to be most beneficial for your upper back pain. Since one of the significant factors causing discomfort is misalignment of the spine, you want to do everything you can to mitigate any distress caused by sleeping.

When compared to other positions, sleeping on your back keeps your spine in alignment much better by ensuring that it stays neutral. If you can manage to stay on your back all night, you should notice a decrease in upper back pain.

If, however, you are already doing so without benefits, then here are some reasons why it might not be working.

  • Your Head is Tilted: to maintain proper alignment, your head should be positioned at the correct angle. If it’s too high or too low, then it will put pressure on your neck and shoulders. If that’s the case, then you will want to switch to a different pillow arrangement to minimize the damage.
  • Your Back is Too Straight: as you probably know, our spines have a natural curvature that helps carry the weight of our bodies. While we sleep, it’s crucial that this curve stays in place. Otherwise, it could lead to pain and soreness. If your back is too flat while you sleep, you should put a pillow under your knees.
  • Your Back is Curved: if you’re sleeping with too many pillows, then it might tilt your whole body upward, which puts a lot of pressure on your lower back. Remove some of these so that your spine can realign itself in the correct position.
Avoid Back Sleeping If

In some instances, this position might be detrimental to your health. If you have one of these conditions, then you should try a different sleep pattern.

  • Pregnancy: women can do damage to their babies by sleeping on their back. Instead, you will have to sleep on your side.
  • Sleep apnea: if you suffer from this condition and you don’t have a CPAP machine, then it will make it harder to get the rest you need.
  • Snoring: usually, sleeping on your back puts pressure on your vocal chords, which can cause snoring. If this is disruptive, then you will have to find an alternative method.

Position 2: Sleep On Your Side

If your back isn’t working for some reason, then this is the next best solution. Sleeping on your side will help keep your spine in proper alignment, but most people are doing it wrong. It’s crucial that you take the necessary steps to ensure that your back doesn’t sit in an awkward position while you sleep.

There are two primary ways that you can sleep on your side:

  • Legs Straight: this is the ideal method, as it puts the least amount of strain on your back
  • Legs Bent: if the above option is not possible, or it’s uncomfortable, then bending your knees slightly can have a better effect. However, make sure that you’re not curling up too much, as that will twist your spine as well.

To help make sure that your back stays in the proper position all night long, it helps to place a small pillow between your knees as explained by Healthline. Doing this will help maintain the correct alignment, as well as reduce any pain or soreness caused by keeping your knees together. For many people, that position is uncomfortable, so adding the pillow minimizes the strain.

TIP: Placing a pillow between your knees can ease pain when side-sleeping

If you’re pregnant, then bending the legs is going to provide the most relief. In many cases, you may want to use a full body pillow (pictured above) instead of a standard model to keep your legs and torso in the right position. Also, the larger surface area may allow you to support your stomach to prevent it from sagging too much while you sleep.

Position 3: Sleep on Your Stomach

Before we go over the proper method for sleeping this way, it’s imperative that you understand that this option should be avoided if possible. In fact, if you are already sleeping on your stomach, it could be what’s causing your upper back pain in the first place.

The reason that stomach sleeping is so detrimental is that it’s so unnatural. It flattens or curves the spine (depending on your gait), and it forces you to turn your head, which puts pressure on your neck and shoulders.

Overall, this position is the worst for getting rid of back pain. However, that being said, some people have to sleep this way to get any rest at all. For example, if you suffer from sleep apnea and you don’t have a CPAP machine, you can minimize your blockage by sleeping on your stomach.

If you can’t fall asleep any other way, then you can do a few things to minimize the damage and help relieve some of the pain you experience.

How to sleep on your stomach correctly:
  • Pillow under pelvis. First, put a pillow under your pelvis. This should NOT go under your stomach. The reason you want to put it in the pelvic region is that it will help retain the natural curvature of the spine.
  • Support the head. Second, make sure that your head is supported the right way. Too often, stomach sleepers will position their head too far above their body, which causes a bend in the spine. Instead, you want to lower it so that you aren’t putting pressure on your neck and shoulders.

In some cases, it might be ideal not to have a pillow at all.

Other Factors to Consider

While your sleep position can determine a lot of what’s causing your upper back pain, there may be some other things that you can do to provide relief. Adding these options to your sleep schedule may transform your comfort level and help you get the best sleep of your life. These are long-term fixes and obviously wont help you after a weekend of painting work. They are worth being aware of of you tend to suffer more chronic upper back pain, in which case, a visit to the doctor might be due as well.

Change Your Mattress

In many cases, we wind up sleeping on beds that are much too firm. Usually, spring mattresses are the worst culprit because they don’t conform to your body’s natural position. If you’ve been thinking about swapping it out for a new one, make sure that it won’t create pressure points on your shoulders and pelvis.

Another option to help minimize the cost is to buy a mattress topper instead. Usually, these are foam add-ons that help reduce pain and increase comfort levels.

Weight Loss

This is not an easy thing to do, but it could provide the relief you need. If you are overweight, it adds a lot of pressure on your spine and the surrounding muscles. In some cases, you may have to lose weight, as changing your sleep position may not do much to solve the problem.


We hope that you found a better way to sleep with this guide, and we hope that you will find the relief you need for your upper back pain. As long as you are not working hard on painting and other DIY jobs all day every day, your back pain should ease up by itself in a few days; if not, make sure you visit your doctor. For more information on this topic, Mayo Clinic has published a good guide to sleeping positions that is worth looking at. Happy sleeping!

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This article was originally written in February 2018 and updated on 7 September 2022.


  • Sara Kooring

    Hi, I’m Sara, co-owner of NestKoo. I’m trained as a fine artist and I love being close to nature. My main area of specialty in NestKoo is DIY house painting, where I bring my skills in fine art painting and contemporary design together into a practical home DIY context.

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