How To Sleep With Sciatica


January 9, 2024

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Effective sciatic treatment involves the patient getting enough restful sleep during the day. It is sometimes hard to sleep during the day or at night when your pain is severe. By raising the knees while sleeping, pillows can relieve sciatic pain. 

In this article, we provide some tips and information to help you find a better bedtime.

What Causes Sciatica?

People often refer to back pain as sciatica when they have back pain. What causes sciatica to flare up? Sciatica is a type of shooting pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve, hence the name. 

The sciatic nerve runs down the back of each leg from the lower back. The sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated when it is located in the lower lumbar spine.

Causes of sciatica include:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back.
  • Generally caused by aging, degenerative disc disease is when the discs that cushion the vertebrae break down and cause two or more vertebrae to rub against each other.
  • Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips over another.
  • Back or buttocks muscle spasms.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Lack of exercise, obesity, wearing high heels, and sleeping on a soft mattress are other causes.

The best sleeping position for sciatica?

Your spine is your primary nervous system. It runs through the back of your neck to the back of both your legs. This is where the sciatic nerve originates. Herniated discs in the lower back are the most common cause. 

Sciatic pain is a common problem. It can be mild or painful and usually affects one side of the body. Sleeping with sciatica is difficult. The pressure from lying in certain places can cause an irritant to flare up. Some sleeping positions may cause less pain than others. Sitting on the floor can be very uncomfortable for people with pain.

Front sleeper: Sleeping on your stomach is usually more comfortable in the short term but can make the issue worse.

Side sleeper: Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs to take the pressure off your hips.

Back sleeper: On your back, keep your heels and buttocks in contact with the bed and bend your knees slightly towards the ceiling. Place a pillow between your bed and knees to provide support. Continue adding pillows until you find a comfortable knee position. It's normal to not find relief after a few days.

Should I sleep on the side of my sciatica?

Yes, some people have gotten used to sleeping on their sides. If you sleep in the same position, this can help relieve some sciatic nerve stress. As you age, you may find that sleeping in uninjured areas can alleviate symptoms of sciatica. To relieve tension from an injury, place a pillow between your knees or waist.

Helpful tips when sleeping with sciatica

Sciatica refers to the pain caused by the compression of sciatic nerves by inflammatory conditions or other spinal abnormalities. Many patients are surprised by the symptoms of sciatica. Pain from sciatica can be very uncomfortable. 

Those suffering from sciatica may experience pain while standing, walking, sitting, or sleeping. Sciatica sufferers may be anxious about the days before bedtime if they can't sleep. 

1) Invest in a Good Mattress

Although your mattress is not the cause of your sciatica, a bad one can aggravate the problem. You should consider our best mattress for back pain article, where we put together a list of memory foam mattresses that relieve pressure so not to aggravate an irritated nerve. As a general rule of thumb:

  • For Stomach Sleepers: Find a firmer mattress that aligns your body and keeps you afloat.
  • For Side Sleepers: Select a medium or medium-firm mattress that offers hip and shoulder support.
  • For Back Sleepers: Choose a medium-firm mattress with full-body support.

2) Use a Body Pillow

When you have sciatica, use a body pillow when you sleep on your side or place a regular pillow between your knees. By placing a pillow between your knees, you can keep your spine, hips, and pelvis aligned.

Consider mimicking the same sleeping position without the spine if a pillow seems too bulky or uncomfortable. Your spine will also be aligned with your hips and pelvis.

3) Elevate Your Knees

Some people who suffer from sciatica find that a pillow between their knees isn't enough to relieve their pain. Bend your knees a little while lying on your back. Place a pillow underneath your knees and continue to add pillows until you find a position that feels comfortable. In order to get pain relief from sciatica, try one of the pillow methods and see which one works best for you.

Consider investing in a mechanical bed if you are fully committed to finding the perfect sleeping position for sciatica. You can adjust it to keep your legs elevated, and fix it in a comfortable position.

4) Take a Bath before Bed

Warm baths can relax your muscles, release pain-fighting endorphins, and relieve sciatic nerve pain. It is best to have a warm bath, not a hot one. You can also use a hot water bottle on your lower back or buttock before bed.

5) Do Some Stretches before Bed

It is not recommended to exercise before bed since the adrenaline rush can keep you wide awake. Sleeping with sciatica pain can be reduced by simple stretches before bed. Many of these stretches can be done on your bed, so you don't even have to wake up in order to do them. Here are the best sciatica stretches:

  • Knees to chest
  • Pelvic tilt
  • Knees to the opposite shoulder
  • Figure 4 stretch

6) Take Your Prescribed Medications

Take pain medications as prescribed by your doctor if sciatica pain prevents you from sleeping. Rest is vital for healing sciatica. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can also help reduce some of your sciatica if you do not want to take prescription medications.

Sleeping with Sciatica

As the nerve roots are compressed in sciatica, it can affect our daily routine and cause pain in the spine. Sciatica can also disrupt sleep. Even though sciatica pain can become severe at night, there are several methods that can help you. Talk to your doctor before trying any of these tips.

Elevate your knees

Lower back pain may result from sleeping on your back or stomach. When you have an old habit of sleeping with your head on the pillow, put your knees up. Elevating your knee is possible with pillows of varying sizes, densities and contours. 

These include regular pillows, cylindrical pillows, and wedges. Depending on the degree of stiffness desired, you can even select between down or memory foam pillows.

Place a pillow between your legs

Using a pillow between the legs can reduce spinal pressure on the thighs. This will look for most positions and will relieve pressure. 

Does putting a pillow between your legs help sciatica?

Sleeping on your side is easy during sciatica treatment. The pillow that sits between your waistline and the mattress may reduce pain in the back and the knees. So it has been known to help.

How do you sleep with a sciatic nerve flare up?

Lay flat on your stomach, holding your heels firmly in place. Slide pillows on your knees and beds to provide comfort. Put a few more pillows on your knees and relax. Chances are you won't find any relief at all.

Is it better to sit or lay down with sciatica?

Pain reduction can happen through rest. As pain decreases, I tell patients to walk short distances or climb stairs. Sitting negatively affects the lower back discs, so I advise against driving.

How long does it take for sciatic nerve pain to go away?

Severe sciatic pain usually goes away within two to three weeks. Behaviour modification may help relieve sciatica pain. However, some patients may suffer from chronic sciatic pain.