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A good night's sleep should leave you feeling great when your alarm wakes you in the morning. But, if you regularly wake up with an achy back, it could be the result of the position you sleep in.

"We are often mindful of our posture when we're awake and standing, sitting or lifting, but many people don't realize the impact sleep posture can have their backs," said Geisinger neurosurgeon Leslie Lyness, D.O. "Some sleep positions can put pressure on your neck, shoulders, hips, lower back, knees and even your heels, which can lead to pain."

Here are some changes you can make to wake up free of back pain.

1. Put your spine in a neutral position

"Sleeping in a position that keeps your spine neutral ensures there's no added pressure being placed on your neck, shoulders, back and hips," Dr. Lyness explained.

The term "neutral spine" means that your back isn't arched or flat.

One way to make sure your spine is neutral is by sleeping on a well-made innerspring or foam mattress. But you don't have to go out and buy a new mattress - you can add a foam mattress topper for additional support.

You can also use pillows and rolled up towels to help, depending on the position you're sleeping in.

2. Sleep on your back

"Sleeping on your back is by and large the best position for your spine," Dr. Lyness said. "In this position, weight is evenly distributed across the widest surface of your body."

Sleeping on your back minimizes pressure points as well as ensuring proper alignment of your internal organs. Plus, sleeping on your back can also ward off nighttime acid reflux.

"Placing a pillow under your knees and a small, rolled up towel under the curve of your back will keep your spine neutral when you sleep on your back," Dr. Lyness said.

3. Alternate sides

Sleeping on your side is a good alternative position if you can't sleep on your back.

"When you sleep on your side, it elongates your spine, which can prevent neck and back pain," Dr. Lyness said. "This position keeps your airways open, which can make you less likely to snore."

If you sleep on your side, try to alternate which side you sleep on - habitually sleeping on only one side on an ill-fitting mattress could contribute to pain and muscle imbalance. When you're sleeping on your side, putting a pillow between your knees can keep your hips, pelvis and spine aligned.

4. Don't sleep on your stomach

Snoozing belly-down is the worst position for your back.

"When you sleep on your stomach, it makes it hard to keep your spine neutral because it can flatten its natural curve, plus it puts additional strain and pressure on muscles and joints," Dr. Lyness said. "This pressure can potentially cause numbness, tingling, irritated nerves and general aches."

If you simply can't sleep in another position, a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis can help ease back strain.
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