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Low back pain and sciatica can be debilitating. Not only because it can disrupt daily activities such as sitting or bending over, but also prevent a good night’s sleep. In fact, a study mentioned that sleeplessness or insomnia had become an increasingly common symptom of chronic low back pain.
However, with appropriate interventions, experts say that it is possible to get relief from sciatica or lower back pain. If you are looking for ways on how to sleep better with lower back pain and sciatica, continue reading below.
Here, we will discuss interventions that you can do at home to improve your sleep at night.
These interventions include the best sleeping positions, use of posture correctors or supports, maintaining good sleeping habits or hygiene, and use of appropriate pillows and mattresses.
Many individuals assume that sleeping is merely a way of relaxing the bodies and shutting the brains off. Some may cut back a few hours, thinking it won’t be a big issue, but research suggests that critical processes occur during sleep.
One of the vital tasks carried out by the body during your shut-eye is pain regulation. Ample evidence in various studies suggests that sleep and pain are interconnected. Experimental studies propose that lack of sleep contributes to the development of chronic pain.
Below are tips and tricks on how to sleep better with lower back pain and sciatica. Whether you have mild, occasional ache, dull, or nagging lower back and leg pain, these tips might help.
If you have sciatica or lower back pain, pay attention to your mattress. Check if it is too soft or too firm. A wrong type of mattress can worsen your condition.
If you have sciatica or lower back pains, the surface where you should sleep on must provide proper cushion and support. It should conform to your body, without sagging excessively. It should also limit the pressure against your shoulders, hips, and other bony prominences.
If your mattress or bed is too soft:
• Your body will conform to the curves of the sagged areas
• As your body follows the curves of your sagging mattress, the normal curvature of your spine will be altered
• The spine will not be properly aligned
• Spinal misalignment can cause more pressure or irritation on the spinal nerves
• There will be limited movement and moisture drainage if the body contours excessively which can lead to increased discomfort
• Certain muscles will not be able to relax well as they try to adjust to the pits on the bed
• You’ll end up with muscle strains
• Your mattress will not conform to the natural curvature of your spine whether you are a side or back sleeper
• Your spine will bend downward, causing an unhealthy or poor S-shaped curve of the spine because the shoulders have a wider area than that of the waist
• Gravity can pull your lumbar spine further downwards
• The mattress won’t be able to provide enough elasticity to support spine alignment
• Your bony prominences will receive higher pressure which may cause more discomfort and pain
• Some muscles of your body will not be able to relax fully
• Your body won’t be able to recover fully
Now that you know the influence of sleeping on different types of mattresses, you should be able to prepare yourself for a good night’s rest. So, to sufficiently support your body during sleep, and relieve your back pain, find an appropriate mattress.
There are many ways on how to sleep better with lower back pain and sciatica. One important reminder that is usually dismissed by many individuals is maintaining good sleep hygiene or sleeping habits.
Good sleeping habits mean:
• Maintaining a sleep schedule with consistent bedtime-wake time
• Avoiding stimulants a few hours before going to bed
• Doing gentle yoga exercises or stretches
• Taking a relaxing, warm bath
• Listening to soothing or calming music
Both lower back pain and sciatica can cause poor blood circulation to different areas of the body. And, if the tissues do not receive adequate blood flow due to poor circulation, tissue growth and recovery are affected. Massage therapy is an effective way to promote circulation.
Aside from tissue recovery, a gentle massage can also soothe tense muscles and relieve pressure on the nerves, including the sciatic.
Furthermore, a soft tissue massage can help initiate the release of hormones called endorphins. These hormones aid in increasing pain thresholds by activating the brain’s pleasure center, resulting in an enhanced feeling of well-being.
The next time you find it hard to sleep well due to lower back pain or sciatica, get a massage. It will not cure the underlying cause of your sciatica or lower back pain, but it can improve and temporarily relieve your symptoms. Just keep in mind; however, that massage, in any form, should be done if your pain is tolerable and with your primary care physician’s approval.
Think about your daily activities. Which activities contribute to the development of your lower back pains or sciatica? What causes your sciatica to flare up? Does sitting too long or standing for extended periods make your symptoms worse? Do you have a tendency to slouch?
Poor posture and several factors can trigger back pain and sciatica symptoms. Improper body alignment, such as slouching adds extra pressure and stress to sciatic nerves and back muscles. When these muscles and nerves get irritated, signs, and symptoms of back pain and sleeplessness can become more apparent.
If you tend to lean forward or slouch or sit too long, you can benefit from posture correctors or back braces. These kinds of back supports remind the body of the correct way of sitting and aligns the bones and back muscles in the right position.
If your body gets used to the proper body alignment and natural curvature of the spine, there will be less strain on your back, especially when you lay down in bed at night. So, if you have lousy sitting habits or poor posture, consider using back braces and supports.
There are different types of pillows, and choosing the right one can be very beneficial for individuals with lower back pain and sciatica. Some pillows conform closely to the natural curvature of the spine, the head, neck, shoulders, and hips. Others help alleviate back pains by protecting pressure points.
So, if you are going to buy a pillow, consider the type of the pillow, your head size, your sleeping position, shoulder width, pillow thickness, and the gap where you will place the pillow. When we say gap, it is the space between the bed and your body parts such as your neck, lower back, and under your knees. Your pillows should adjust to fit your unique body built, physique, curves, shape, and your sleeping position.
The most common types of pillows are:
Feather pillows also called goose-down pillows, offer softness, conformability, and support. They can easily be shaped and manipulated to conform to body shapes. People who frequently change sleeping position can benefit most from this type of pillow.
Orthopedic pillows are designed to correct body position while sleeping or resting in bed. They are sometimes termed as therapeutic pillows because they follow certain orthopedic guidelines to ensure that they support and maintain the normal alignment of the body.
Certain claims say that they can help conditions such as sleep apnea (difficulty breathing while sleeping), sciatica, neck pain, and back pain, among others.
Under this category of pillows, you can choose from neck pillows or travel pillows, wedge pillows, lumbar pillows, cervical pillows, body pillows, spinal support pillow, and knee pillow to name some.
Memory foams self adjust to conform to an individual’s shape, allowing your neck, shoulders, and head to rest in a natural sleeping position. You’ll also stay comfortable even if you move to different positions at night. They also go back to their original shape and are available in various sizes and shapes.
So, if you want to sleep better, do not forget to check if your pillow is perfect for you.
Worrying and overthinking can make things worse. They both increase brain activity, which will make it more difficult to feel sleepy. Also, habits such as watching the clock or entertaining negative thoughts can increase your anxiety, consequently increasing your pain levels.
While it is difficult not to worry at times, you can try different ways for you to relax. You can listen to a piece of calming music or sounds of nature such as ocean waves, chirping birds, or rainfall.
Some individuals also benefit from a technique called mindfulness — the practice of letting go of negative thoughts and refocusing your brain’s attention. As you redirect your thoughts, your body will relax, switching off triggers that worsen and possibly cause your back pains.
Remember, sleep and pain are interrelated, and the more you get a good night’s sleep, the more you can recover quickly from back pains.
One of the measures to ease back pain or sciatica is to be aware of the best sleeping positions. The following list includes tips for different types of sleepers to relieve lower back pain or sciatica:
If you are a side sleeper, you may want to try sleeping on your left or right side in a curled fetal position. When we say fetal position, your body assumes how a fetus sleeps in the womb. To do that, lie on either side and tuck your knees towards your chest. Then, gently move your torso towards your knees.
This position helps because curling your torso and tucking your knees near your chest help free up some space between the vertebral bones.
And how does that help? Well, your nerves do not get compressed, and if you have sciatica, less pressure on your sciatic nerve means less pain or no pain at all.
You may have heard that sleeping on your stomach (facing down) is not good for any type of back pain. But, you don’t have to force yourself into sleeping in another position.
If you find it more relaxing sleeping on your stomach, just make sure that there is no pressure nor stress on any part of your body. To do that, put a small pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis, so there is no pressure on your lower back.
Depending on how you position your head, you may or may not decide to place a pillow under the head. In case you have specialized pillows for neck, keep in mind to keep the natural alignment of your cervical spine (the vertebral bones in your neck area).
If you are one of those people who love to sleep on their backs, make sure to get one to two small pillows or a towel. Use one pillow under your knees and maintain the neutral position of your spine. It will keep the normal alignment and curvature of your spine.
If you have another small pillow, place it under your knees for added support. If you do not have an extra small pillow for your knees, get a small towel and roll it up. Then, use it instead of the small pillow.
How does this help? It’s simple. When you sleep lying down on your back with a pillow or towel supports, your body weight becomes evenly distributed.
Proper weight distribution reduces the strain on your body's pressure points.
You will also be able to get a better body alignment.
No matter what sleeping position you like better, remember that alignment is the key. Also, reducing the gap between the bed and your body reduces strain or stress on the back, which can contribute to the development of pain.
This article only provides basic information and a general overview on how to sleep better with lower back pain and sciatica. The tips included above may not apply to everyone because the treatment options and interventions vary depending on an individual’s condition.
To learn more about the topic and to find out if this information applies to your situation, contact your primary care provider.