If you’ve ever suffered from pain that runs from your lower back down into your legs, you could be suffering from sciatica. For too many, it also causes trouble with sleeping. Here’s some of our best tips for sleeping with sciatica.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica pain stems from irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve. This is the longest nerve of the human body. It runs down the spinal cord, into the buttocks, and down each leg. Symptoms of sciatica include:
- Leg pain
- Lower back pain
- Tingling and numbness in the legs and feet
The following video gives an overview of this condition, along with some common treatment approaches. One thing the video does not cover, however, is techniques for sleeping with sciatica.
How to sleep with sciatica
There are a few options you can try to reduce your sciatica pain at night. These range from adjusting your sleep position to trying different stretches before bed. For some who suffer from severe pain at night, there are also medications your doctor can prescribe to help with sleep.
Overall, these tips encourage you to experiment to find what works best for you. Sleep is so important for the pain patient. Losing it can increase your pain the following day, leading to less sleep the next day. It easily becomes a terrible cycle. That’s why we encourage you to find what works best if you’re having troubles sleeping with sciatica, no matter if it seems a little unorthodox or takes some getting used to.
1. Pick the best sleeping position for sciatica
The best way to sleep with sciatica is to find a sleeping position that works for you, and stick with it. Many patients find that even if they can stay in one position for most of the night, it gives them the minimum amount of sleep they need to function during the day. And, for many, by finding the right position, you can avoid most of your nighttime pain.
As we talked about in our post on the best sleeping position for lower back pain, lying flat on your back is best for many people. But this is slightly different with sciatica. Lying on your back may be best, but others prefer to lie on their sides.
If you can lie on your back, elevate your knees with a few pillows stacked between them and the bed.
If you are a side sleeper, bend your top knee and pull it towards your head. Prop your knee with two to three pillows, so your hips are squared while you sleep.
2. Find a better sleeping surface
When trying to sleep with sciatica, it’s best to sleep on a firm mattress. If a new mattress isn’t in the budget, you could try a few different sleeping places to see if it helps your pain.
This might include sleeping in a guest room with a firmer mattress, especially on nights when your pain flares up.
You may also try sleeping on the floor, with a yoga mat or sheet underneath you. As Spine-Health explains, some people actually experience less nighttime discomfort and pain when sleeping on the floor. It may take a few days for you to get used to the floor, so don’t give up after only one night.
If the floor doesn’t do it for you, try a recliner. Many patients love this option, saying that it allows them to actually sleep through the night.
3. Stop yourself from lying on your painful side
So, one side is more painful than the other, but you’re prone to rolling around a lot in your sleep. What do you do?
An ingenious commenter on a sciatica forum suggests:
“After nights of waking myself in pain, I started wearing workout shorts with pockets to bed and I put a tennis ball in the right one. Now I don’t turn on that side anymore!”
This simple solution stopped them from rolling over in the middle of the night, and could help you!
4. Invest in a good neck pillow
Pain in one area doesn’t just stay there–it impacts our whole body. Too many people sleep with overly fluffy pillows that crank their necks up at night, or pillows with no support at all. Keeping your upper spine straight during the night can help reduce lower back pain later on. We recommend some of our favorite neck pain pillows here.
5. Wear a pain-relieving patch to bed, or use capsaicin creams
Some patients find measurable relief, especially from localized severe pain, by trying pain-relieving patches and creams before bed. The Imbue Patch, in particular, lasts for eight hours. It can be applied to the side of your leg and your lower back at the beginning of the night, to reduce pain. Likewise, you may also try pain-relieving creams, like those with capsaicin or menthol.
6. Ice sore areas before bed
Had a particularly active or painful day? Many doctors recommend icing sore spots before going to bed. Wisdom and Health recommends: “Placing a cold pack or ice pack on the lower spine, tailbone and/or buttock for 20 minutes once every 2-3 hours will help reduce swelling and also reduce pain.”
In this case, make sure to talk to your doctor before icing. They may have suggestions for duration or how often you should be icing painful areas.
7. Do some light stretching before bed
If your sciatica is caused by tense muscles that irritate the sciatic nerve, some light stretching could reduce this pressure. We suggest ten sciatica stretches you can do anytime, anywhere (even from bed!) in a recent post on the subject.
8. Be diligent about your sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene simply refers to the habits and activities you engage in before bed. Many sleeping complaints actually stem from irregular nighttime routines. For example, looking at the blue screen of a television or phone bed can seriously disrupt sleep. Exercising too soon before bed raises your core body temperature, making sleep more difficult as well.
A good sleep hygiene routine incorporates a few nighttime habits that signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. You may choose to drink a warm mug of chamomile tea or do some light reading before bed. Or, you could try a day-end restorative meditation practice. What matters is that you enjoy your routine, so you’re encouraged to do it every night before bed. We go over more sleep hygiene tips in another blog post.
9. Indulge in sciatica massages
For painful periods, or for regular maintenance, a sciatica massage can help you reduce muscle tension and relieve pain. In a recent post, we discuss some of the massage options you have, ranging from self-massage with a tennis ball to trigger point therapy.
10. Talk to your doctor
Finally, the best and most important tip for how to sleep with sciatica comes down to talking to your doctor. If sciatica pain is severely impairing your ability to sleep, it’s affecting your body’s natural healing ability. Ignoring this, or pushing through it, could only lead to more pain down the line.
Instead, talk to your doctor about options you might have for sleeping with sciatica. They may recommend sleep medications to use on an as-needed basis. Or, more likely, they’ll introduce more treatments into your routine so you can reduce your sciatica pain at night. These natural therapies include:
- Exercise regimens
- Physical therapy
- Dietary changes
- Chiropractic care
- Biofeedback therapy
If your pain is severe and doesn’t respond to these treatments, they may try more advanced therapies like:
- Epidural steroid injections
- Spinal cord stimulation
- Trigger point injections
- TENS unit therapy
Get help for sleeping with sciatica
Sleeping with sciatica shouldn’t be something you dread all day. You do have multiple treatment options and techniques that can help reduce your pain at night. For example, you could try to follow a wind-down routine that includes:
- Easy sciatica stretches before bed
- Massaging pain-relieving creams into painful areas, or propping pillows up the way you need
- A short meditation routine to clear your thoughts
While this routine can’t cure or stop your sciatica completely, it can help you get the rest you need. And without that, your body won’t have the healing space it needs to help calm inflammation or irritation that’s causing your pain.
For even more specialized help, click the button below to find a pain doctor in your area. They’ll be able to diagnose the cause and extent of your pain, while suggesting treatment approaches that could work for you. With the right help, pain while sleeping with sciatica could be a thing of the past.