Sciatica is the most common source of lower back pain. It happens when the largest nerve in your body – the sciatic nerve, is pinched or irritated. This usually occurs in the sacral or lumbar spinal region and can result in recurring pain radiating from your lower back.
The pain is rarely unbearable, most of the time acting like a nagging, but manageable nuisance, but it all changes when you’re trying to fall asleep. This is when the sciatica pain becomes a huge problem, making it difficult for you to get comfortable and drift off to sleep, which leads to insomnia and drowsiness the next morning.
If you’ve ever suffered from sciatica pain, and you’d like to get rid of it, or at least be able to manage it better during the night, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to deal with some tips on how to sleep with sciatica.
What Causes Sciatica?
As we explained in the intro, sciatica is a term that describes symptoms of weakness, numbness and pain that radiate from the sciatic nerve, along the lower back to the legs and buttocks. The proper medical term for this condition is lumbar radiculopathy.
A majority of symptoms result from lower back problems that cause irritation to, or put pressure on the lumbar nerves. Sciatica is most commonly caused by a problem such as a herniated disc pressing against the root of a nerve. It can also happen when a disc deteriorates, which irritates the adjacent nerve by releasing inflammatory proteins.
Symptoms of sciatica are most often felt on one side of the body only, and they include a combination of numbness, tingling, lower back pain as well as leg pain.
Best Sleeping Position for Sciatica
Sleeping on Your Back
Lying on your back can help relieve your sciatic pain, but if you don’t do it right, you could end up irritating the nerve even more. You should never lie flat on your back with your legs extended. This would create a curvature in your lower spine and put extra pressure on those muscles and nerves.
What you want to do is have your knees in the air and the lower part of your back pressing firmly against the mattress. If you’re having trouble keeping your knees up, feel free to place a pillow underneath them for added support.
Sleeping on Your Side
Probably the best sleeping position for sciatica sufferers is sleeping on the side. Just like with sleeping on your back, there’s a proper way to do it, though. What you should do is place a pillow between your legs as you sleep. This will add support and keep your body from twisting into an unnatural position.
If you lie on your side without a pillow between your knees, your top leg will likely roll forward as you sleep. This will twist your spine and create pressure on the lower back, which we want to avoid at all costs when we’re dealing with sciatica.
Sleeping on Your Stomach
On the opposite end of the spectrum, from sleeping on your side, stomach sleeping is arguably the worst position for those with sciatica pain. Unless you’ve got a specially-designed mattress for stomach sleepers, your lower back and hips will likely arch into an unnatural position, which will exacerbate your sciatica. To get the best mattress for sciatica sufferers, check out some of our other guides and reviews.
If you simply can’t sleep in a different position, you might find some relief in placing a pillow underneath your hips, elevating them throughout the night, or take a look at some mattresses for stomach sleepers. However, we would recommend trying to sleep on your side or your back instead.
4 Tips for Sleeping with Sciatica
Aside from sleeping on your side or your back and using pillows to get in the right position, there are a few more things you could do to improve your sleeping experience with sciatica. We will cover some tricks and tips on how to sleep with sciatica here.
Better Sleep Hygiene
This is a good tip, no matter what kind of sleep issues you’re suffering from. Getting better sleep hygiene means you’re going to be sleeping more soundly and waking up well-rested.
So, what do we mean by good sleep hygiene? You might have heard some tips regarding this before, but what you should try to do is turn off all screens at least an hour before going to bed, as well as focusing on a good nightly routine. This means only going to bed when you’re ready to sleep so your brain would start to associate being in bed with sleeping after a while.
If you’re able to fall asleep before beginning to feel any sciatic pain, you have a higher chance of getting some valuable rest.
Hot or Cold Therapy
Tense muscles in the lower back can also cause sciatic pain. Warm packs or a hot bath can be a great way to relieve tension in those muscles and help them relax. This can be incorporated well into your nightly routine, with a hot bath relaxing your mind as well as your body, which means you’re going to be able to fall asleep faster, getting double the benefits.
To treat pain and inflammation, you can use a cold pack as well. This might give you some initial relief as well as helping you in the long run.
To help you relax and prevent your sciatica from acting up during the night, you should try doing some stretching exercises as well. As we mentioned earlier, tense muscles are often the cause of sciatica pain, and stretching those muscles out will relieve them of tension, giving your sciatic nerve a well-deserved break.
One thing to remember when it comes to any exercise right before bed is to keep the stretches gentle and low-impact. Making your workout too energetic might make you too alert and cause trouble with falling asleep.
Get a Different Mattress
Our final tip is one that you might find self-evident, but we still thought it was well worth mentioning. If you’re having issues with sleep, no matter what the cause, getting a supportive and comfortable mattress is the absolute best thing you can do for yourself. It is also the most expensive option, so you might want to try the other tips out before resorting to this step, which is why we put it on the bottom on this list.
However, as expensive as a new mattress is, it could quickly turn out to be worth the investment if nothing else is working. In fact, you should try to get the best affordable mattress even if you aren’t suffering from any pain or sleep-related problems right now because these problems could show up at any time down the line.
Could getting a new pillow help with my sciatica?
Because sciatica pain happens in your lower back and legs, many people believe getting a higher-quality pillow isn’t going to make much of a difference. That sounds perfectly logical, but it isn’t entirely true. Getting a good pillow can help a lot with your sciatic pain because it could help put your body into the right position while you sleep.
Would a massage improve my condition?
If you’re looking to get some instant relief from sciatica, there aren’t many better ways to do that than a massage. As you already know, the sciatic nerve is located above the buttocks, under a muscle in your lower back. When we can relax this muscle through massage, we give the sciatic nerve some much-needed relief as well.
Many factors go into having the right sleeping routine if you have sciatica issues. The correct sleeping position needs to be combined with good sleep hygiene as well as exercise, stretching, massage and other notable contributors.
Start by sleeping on your side if you can and if you do not see any improvement after a while, incorporate the other activities like stretching and massages. It’s crucial to maintain an excellent nightly routine as well to prepare your mind and body for a restful night.
If all else fails, or if you simply feel that you need one, replace the mattress. Your bed might feel perfectly functional, but it still might not be the right mattress for your needs.