Medical Reviewer: Kari Haberman PT, DPT
Article Reviewed & Updated
Insightful research reveals that sciatica pain affects 10 to 40% of the global population. It typically arises due to irritation, pinching, inflammation, or compression of nerves present in our lower backs.
Unfortunately, this pain can disrupt your everyday schedules because of immense pain that radiates in the back and leg. Worse of all, sciatic pain can interrupt your sleep.
Most people with sciatic pain tend to use self-care treatments and home remedies to alleviate pain. Fortunately, patients tend to get better with time.
To help you combat sciatic pain, we have created a comprehensive guide to the dos and don'ts of sleeping with sciatica:
Why is Sciatica Pain Worse at Night?
People with sciatic pain often notice their symptoms worsen when lying down in bed. Let's discuss the top five reasons sciatica gets worse at night:
Lying down can increase pressure on irritated or compressed nerves, especially if you sleep on a soft mattress.
Cooler temperature can worsen arthritis and sciatic pain. Since the surrounding temperature tends to fall at night, you're more likely to experience heightened sciatica pain while sleeping.
Attention and Distraction
You're more likely to be aware of your pain during nighttime when you have fewer distractions.
It doesn't mean you're exaggerating your pain, only that you notice it more at night.
Medications controlling your sciatic pain may wear off during nighttime. Or your nighttime biochemistry may require a different dosage.
While preparing for sleep, your metabolism, hormone levels, and other biochemical processes differ.
Consequently, people with sciatic pain may experience heightened pain because of changing hormone levels.
The 5 Do's and Don'ts of Sleeping with Sciatica
Sciatica pain makes it impossible to enjoy a peaceful sleep. The symptoms do not disappear, making sleeping time uncomfortable. Throbbing pain in your feet or burning sensation in your calves can disrupt your sleep. Here, we have some dos and don'ts to help you sleep better at night.
Some helpful tips for a sound sleep at night are as follows.
Buy a Good- Quality Mattress
Although mattresses do not cause sciatica, they may worsen the condition. Use an orthopedic bed to avoid pain while sleeping.
- For Stomach Sleepers: Purchase a firmer mattress to conform to your body aligned during sleep.
- For Side Sleepers: Choose a softer mattress that supports your shoulder and hips.
-For Back Sleepers: Invest in a medium-firm mattress that provides full-body support.
Use a Body Pillow
People who suffer from sciatica must use a body pillow while sleeping on their sides or between their knees. It provides additional support to your spine, hips, and pelvis.
Shower before Bed
A warm shower can release all the pain and relax your muscles. Make sure your bath water is warm to calm your sciatic nerves. Using hot water bottles on the buttocks and lower back before bed also releases pain and helps sleep better.
Exercise Before Bed
People with sciatica often exercise before going to bed. These exercises do not include rigorous and tiring routines but simple stretches to help you sleep better at night. You may do some of these stretches while in bed.
- Pelvic tilt
- Knees to chest
- Knees to the opposite shoulder
Do Sciatica Massages at Home
Massages release stress and body pain. Massage therapy has proven to be effective for people with sciatica. Learn some effective sciatica massages that you can easily do at home to help you sleep comfortably at night.
Following are some essential things you must avoid to improve your sleep patterns.
Do Not Sleep on the Wrong Side
Sciatica pain mainly occurs on one side of the body. Sleeping on that side will only worsen the pain. You can avoid the pain by rolling over to the other side or using a positioning pillow to help sleep on the unaffected side. Place something in your pocket that will stop you from rolling over to the affected side.
Do Not Sleep on Your Stomach
Just like avoiding rolling to the affected side, sleeping on your stomach may also intensify your sciatica pain. Sleeping on your stomach will flatten out your spine that may cause discomfort and pain. It also causes added pressure to your neck, causing intense pain.
Do Not Bend Over
Bending over to pick up an object will increase shearing forces on the spine that will later cause pain in your spinal cord. The pain combined with the object's weight will affect your bones and disc and cause serious injury.
Do Not Use Soft Mattress
People with sciatica pain must avoid an overly soft mattress because it will sink in your body and distort the alignment of your spine.
Do Not Sit For More Than 20 Minutes
Prior to bedtime, sitting for a more extended period may cause intense pain. To avoid this pain, you must change your positions frequently and avoid sitting on sofas or chairs that are not supportive.
Best Sciatica Sleep Positions at Night
Sciatica can have a devastating effect on your sleep. According to many studies, 55% of people suffer from sleep disturbances due to chronic lower back pain. Finding the correct position to sleep may seem challenging at first but rewarding later. Here, we have the best sciatica sleep positions at night.
With a Pillow Under Your Knees
Sleeping in this position helps in the even distribution of weight. It offloads pressure of the spine, relaxes our hip flexors, and maintains the natural curve of your spine.
How to set up:
- Lie on your back.
- Place a pillow under your head.
- Put a pillow under your knees.
- Rest your heels against the mattress.
On your Side
Since sciatica affects one side, sleeping on the other will reduce the aching side's pain.
How to set up:
- Lie on the unaffected side.
- Use a pillow to reduce side bending if you notice a gap between your mattress and waist.
On the Floor
Avoid softer mattresses that dislocate the alignment of your spine. Sleep on the floor if you do not have a firmer mattress.
How to set up:
- Place a yoga mat on the floor
- Lie down in your preferred sleeping position.
With a Towel Under Your Lower Back
Placing a towel under your lower back will put your spine in a neutral position and reduce the gap between the mattress and your back.
How to set up:
- Lie down and place a pillow under your head.
- Place a towel horizontally across your lower back to keep your pelvis in a neutral position.
The Bottom Line
Sciatica can be excruciating. The discomfort increases at night, especially if you do not choose the correct sleeping position. Sleeping on the wrong side may trigger the nerve and cause intense pain. Position yourself in a manner that aligns your spine and does not add extra pressure to it. Place added support to help you sleep contentedly at night.
However, if your pain lasts for more than a week, you must visit a physical therapist or your doctor immediately to treat the pain.