How to Sleep For Sciatica Sufferers (Dos & Don’ts)

If you’re a sufferer of sciatica, you will be all too familiar with the challenges you face when getting a good night’s sleep.

Getting good quality sleep is detrimental to the treatment of sciatica, making it somewhat of a vicious cycle.

You might have heard many varied forms of information that promote sleep aids to try to help you sleep with your sciatica problem. However, there are actually many things you can do yourself at home to try and relieve your symptoms when it comes to bedtime.

Throughout this guide, I aim to help you reclaim your nightly sleep schedule by making minor changes to your routine and general lifestyle and informing you about the do’s and don’ts for a good night’s sleep.

What is Sciatica?

What is Sciatica

The sciatic nerve starts at the bottom of your spine and runs down through your hips, buttocks, and the backs of your legs; it’s the largest nerve in the human body.

If you suffer from sciatica, it means that there is an obtrusion of the nerve, this can be caused by a slipped disk, but several other conditions, such as weight gain, pregnancy, or lumbar spinal stenosis, can also cause it.

The primary symptom of sciatica is a sharp pain that shoots down through your lower back, through your buttocks, and down the backs of your legs, and in severe cases, it can be highly debilitating.

Sleeping Positions For Sciatica

Studies have shown that over half of sciatica sufferers have difficulty getting to sleep at night. This happens due to chronic pain, or their condition causes them to wake up multiple times during the night.

While you’re sleeping, it’s common to aggravate your symptoms, putting excess pressure on the sciatic nerve. Therefore, there are things you can do regarding your sleeping position during a sciatic attack. Not all positions work for everyone, and you might have to try a few before you find one that suits you personally, but the main idea with all of them is to try and keep your spine aligned throughout the night.

Let’s find out how to improve your sleep when suffering from sciatic pain.

1. Pillow Between The Knees

Pillow Between The Knees

This tactic means that your pelvis and hips align naturally while you sleep. It also deters you from splitting your legs apart while you’re asleep. Lie on your side, and place the pillow between your legs, so that your top knee is resting on the bottom one. Keep the knees slightly bent. If it helps, you can also place a second pillow under your waist to help keep your spine from curving.

2. Lie on Your Side

Lie on Your Side

Sleeping on your side is one of the most common recommendations for sciatica sufferers. This is because it doesn’t put much pressure on the nerve as sleeping on your front or back. As with the pillow between the legs method, putting a small pillow underneath your waist can help to improve your spinal alignment.

3. On Your Back

On Your Back

Lying on your back is one of the best ways to evenly distribute your weight and the best possible way to keep your spine aligned.

If you opt for sleeping flat on your back as a way of coping with sciatica, try placing a pillow under the back of your knees; this helps support the natural curvature of the spine.

While sleeping on your back, instead of placing a pillow under your knees, you can also try putting it under your lower back. This helps the spine to remain in a natural position and prevents a gap between the mattress and your back.

If you wish and find it comfortable enough, you can have a pillow under your lower back and your knees simultaneously.

4. The Fetal Position

The Fetal Position

Lying in the fetal position means the area between your vertebrae is opened. This has been shown to reduce pain in sufferers with a slipped disk. However, depending on the cause of your sciatica, this position may not work for everyone and can, in fact, make the pain worse in some cases.

5. Sleeping on The Floor

Sleeping on The Floor

Although this might not seem ideal, some patients with severe sciatica find comfort in sleeping on harder surfaces. Studies have shown that sleeping on the floor improves the alignment of your spine.

You don’t need to sleep directly on the tiled floor; you can use items such as mattress toppers or exercise mats to add more comfort and stop you from getting cold.

Sleeping With Sciatica – Other Remedies

Aside from improving your sleeping position, there are some other things you can do to help you relieve your symptoms and decrease the pain, such as the following:

1. Use Pain Relief Medications

Use Pain Relief Medications

Taking pain relief a couple of hours before bed and throughout the day, as instructed, can help you fall asleep much easier at night. You can apply pain-relieving gels directly to the affected areas, which has proven to soothe the discomfort.

2. Use a Neck Pillow

Use a Neck Pillow

Keeping your neck aligned helps to align your entire spinal cord. Sleeping with a good, firm pillow that correctly supports your neck can help to reduce long-term back pain.

3. Invest in a New Mattress

Invest in a New Mattress

Although some people love climbing into a bed with an ultra-soft mattress that feels like you’re sleeping on a cloud, it can actually have a negative effect on your sleep health when it comes to back problems. Try changing to a firmer mattress or temporarily sleeping in someone else’s or on the floor until your symptoms have subsided.

4. Get a Massage

Get a Massage

There are many specialist kinds of massages that you can have now that are designed to improve specific health problems such as back and neck pain. You can also buy products designed to use at home that can have a similar effect when used correctly.

5. Stretching

Stretching

Practicing some light stretches before you go to bed can help to relax any muscle strain that might be the underlying cause of your sciatica. 

6. Take a Warm Bath

Take a Warm Bath

Bathing before you go to bed can help some people feel more relaxed and comfortable, and many say that a warm bath helps to soothe muscles and back pain, especially when accompanied by products such as muscle soaks and Epsom salts.

Positions to Avoid When Sleeping with Sciatica

Positions to Avoid When Sleeping with Sciatica

The ideal way to sleep when you have sciatica so as not to cause further pain is either on your side or your back, with or without pillows and sleep aids.

Sleeping on your stomach is strongly advised against, and this goes for any form of lower back pain you might be experiencing.

Sleeping on your stomach means your lower back is unnaturally curved and puts a lot of pressure on the muscles and joints surrounding your back, including your hips and pelvis.

Twisted sleeping is also not advised. Sleeping with one leg up, or starfished with your legs apart, means that your muscles are straining, and more pressure is being put on your lower back and pelvic region.

When to See Your Doctor?

When to See Your Doctor

If your sciatica has been bothering you for some time, and it’s negatively affecting your sleep on a regular basis, this can start to impact your daily life and well-being. It is at this point when speaking to your doctor is a must.

Your doctor can give you a more personalized diagnosis and discuss possible treatments such as physical therapy, chiropractic care, dietary changes, or steroid injections.

A Final Note

Being kept awake by sciatic pain on a nightly basis is not something you should have to deal with, especially not in the long term. So, it’s good to know that there are plenty of sleep positions, remedies, and treatments available that can drastically improve not only sciatica itself but also your quality of sleep.

Therapeutic techniques such as massages, stretching, and physical therapy can help to relieve pain in the spinal area, and pain-relieving medications that you can purchase over the counter at any drug store.

These techniques, however, may not necessarily mean your sciatica will be cured forever, but it does mean that they put you back in control of your sleep quality and pain management.

For the most tailored help regarding your personal health, it’s always advised to see your doctor, who can examine you in more depth, especially if your home remedies have minimal effect.

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Sarah Wagner

I'm Sarah Wagner, and I founded Sweet Island Dreams in 2022. It's a blog dedicated to helping people mental vacation virtually anytime they want. By providing information about the best sleep of your life, I help people drift away to paradise without ever having to leave their bed!