Is Your Mattress Causing Back Pain?

Is your mattress causing back pain? If you wake up with aches in the morning that you didn’t have the night before, this article is written for you.

As a life long sufferer of mattress induced lower back pain, I have 20 years of self-experimentation under my belt.

In this three-step guide I’ll share my tips to trouble shoot and eliminate back pain caused by your mattress.

is your mattress causing back pain?

My morning back pain began at the age of ten when I was benched during summer soccer. 

I discovered that the pain lessened over the weekend when sleeping at our family cabin. So, I convinced my parents to buy me a new mattress. The back pain was gone.

That is, until freshman year of college.

Dorm life came with a low-quality mattress, which I battled for nine months. In that time, I upgraded the mattress with 2″ and then 4″ memory foam pads, self-experimented with sleep positions, and put wooden planks under the mattress so it wouldn’t sag.

Even the expensive memory foam mattress toppers caused lower back pain in the morning.

For 20 years now, my engineering mind has been experimenting and finding solutions to back pain caused by my mattress. Here is how to trouble shoot and eliminate lower back pain caused by your mattress.

Mattress Causing Back Pain? Let’s Trouble Shoot.

Step 1: Fix Your Mattress

The moral of the story above is: don’t sleep on a worn-out, low-quality mattress.

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, so investing in a quality mattress is non-negotiable. The number one cause of morning back pain is your mattress.

The typical mattress needs replacing after ten years of use. Based on my experience, adding fancy mattress toppers are only a bandaid fix. Data shows that a worn-out or low-quality mattress reduces sleep quality and can be the source of back pain.

If you have morning lower back pain, a medium-firm mattress is best. Many studies corroborate this. If you wake up with chronic back pain and you’re sleeping on a poor quality mattress, invest in a new one.

I have slept on hundreds of mattresses, and the two that have guaranteed me a pain-free morning are the Tempur-Pedic and the Helix.

If you just bought a new mattress and it’s causing back pain, return it and test out one of those two mattresses. The Helix has a Sleep Quiz that you take and then they prescribe you a mattress that fits your needs.

If you’re stuck with your bad mattress, then move on to the following steps to reduce back pain induced by your mattress.

Pro Tip: It’s impossible to know if it’s the right mattress on the showroom floor. Take your time on each bed, use your best judgment and only hand over the credit card if there’s a 30-day return policy. That way, you and your plus one can make sure it’s perfect. The Helix offers a 100 Night Sleep Trial and 10 year warranty which shows they stand by their product. 

Step 2: Fix Your Posture

Sleeping posture is the next important consideration if you have morning back pain.

Stomach sleeping is the worst posture for back and neck pain. The back is likely arched, and the neck is tweaked to one side. No good. For stomach sleepers, convert to a back or side sleeper.

If you’re sleeping properly on your side and still having back pain, try sleeping on your back.

Note – properly means using a pillow between your knees to keep your hips, pelvis, and spine in alignment and supporting your head and neck with the right height pillow.

If you’re sleeping correctly on your back and your mattress is still giving you back pain, try putting one or two pillows under your knees. I am a back sleeper, and this works well for me when the bed is too soft.

Note – correctly means laying flat on your back with both legs parallel and your head supported and facing straight up.

There is a lot of debate regarding which is better, back or side sleeping. In my opinion, back sleeping is best for body alignment, but if you’re a back sleeper in pain, try sleeping on your side.

Pro Tip: It’s not easy to change sleep posture. It took me months to convert from being a side sleeper to a back sleeper. You have to be persistent. Positioning pillows in the bed to prevent you from switching postures in the night works well. Alex recently switched and found placing a pillow below her knees kept her from rolling onto her side. Be creative!

Step 3: What else can I fix?

In the pursuit of a pain-free, comfortable morning, and quality night’s sleep consider these. Morning back pain is bad, but what’s worse is that it’s a sign that you didn’t get a high-quality night sleep. 

 1. Your hip flexors. Are they tight? I am guilty just like others who sit for a large portion of the day.

Stretch your hip flexors, hamstringsquadsglutes, and back (cobra pose and cat-cow pose) on your bedroom floor at night to reduce back pain. If you wake up with pain in the morning, repeat the stretches, and strengthen your back muscles by doing superman pose.

2. Try sleep stretching (get it? like sleepwalking? …never mind). This one is new for me, but it’s very effective at easing sleep back pain.

When you get up in the middle of the night (hopefully to go to the bathroom and not because you are in pain,) take five minutes to stretch in the dark.

Why rush back to bed if you’re already in pain? This will only help you improve the rest of your night’s sleep.

3.  If you’re laid up from back pain, don’t lay around and wait for it to feel better. Move!

Keep your blood flowing to aid in the healing process the next day. Don’t do movements that cause pain, but an active recovery workout can do wonders! Trying our Couples Yoga Challenge would be a great activity.

4. Don’t forget about vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can cause subtle pain, particularly in the back, and when you get enough, you’ll sleep much better.

5. Research sleep improvement processes and sleep improvement tools that you can implement to get an even more quality night sleep. 

6. You can also improve your posture by using a wearable posture trainer. We conducted a 2-week experiment and summarized our significant transformation in a data-driven UPRIGHT GO 2 posture trainer review


Unfortunately, after 20 plus years, I have still not found the perfect solution to morning back pain. If I could sleep in the same bed every night of the year, that would be a different story.

But, traveling in South America doesn’t offer me that luxury. I will continue to update this post as I further improve my mattress induced morning back pain.

Next, check out our recent post on how to correct your forward head (“nerd neck”) posture.

additional reading

  • How Pain Affects Sleep – National Sleep Foundation – A 2015 poll finds that over half of Americans are in pain. Their sleep is compromised.
  • How to Get the ZZZ’s You Need When Your Partner Has Different Sleep Habits – Well and Good – “It’s rare for both people to have the same sleep habits,” says Inessa Freylekhman, a marriage and family therapist and feng shui expert at Carillon Miami Wellness Resort. “The key to coping with a partner who has a very different sleep pattern is communication.”

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