The term “sciatica” refers to the pain experienced when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed by inflammation or other spinal abnormalities. Many patients tell us “sciatica wakes me up at night”.
When you’re suffering from sciatica, the experience is not just painful, but also uncomfortable. Some people have difficulty standing, walking, sitting, and many have difficulty learning how to sleep with sciatica or sciatica pain when lying down. For some, sleeping with sciatica can lead to anxiety the moments before bedtime as you prepare for the possibility of once again not getting a good night’s rest.
What Causes Sciatica?
When people have back pain, they often refer to it as sciatica. But what causes sciatica to flare up? Sciatica is a very common type of back pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve, hence the name sciatica. The sciatic nerve extends from the lower back and down the back of each leg. Sciatica occurs when the root or roots of the sciatic nerve, located in the lower lumbar spine, are compressed or irritated.
Causes of sciatica include:
- Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back caused by lumbar spinal stenosis.
- Degenerative disc disease when the discs that cushion the vertebrae breakdown and cause two or more vertebrae to rub against each other, generally caused by age.
- Spondylolisthesis, when one vertebra slips over another one.
- Muscle spasms in the buttocks or back.
- Additional causes include lack of exercise, obesity, wearing high heels, or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft.
Tips For Getting to Sleep with Sciatic Pain
Sciatic pain can make it almost impossible to find a comfortable position and fall asleep. The symptoms don’t abate just because it is time for you to go to bed. And often a throbbing pain in your foot or burning sensation in your calf can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night abruptly. Some of the questions that most people have are: What is the best way to sleep with back pain, or more specifically what is the best way to sleep with lower back pain? Try these tips to help you fall asleep and wake up refreshed and ready to face the day.
1) Invest in a Good Mattress
Although your mattress is not the root of your sciatic issues, it could be making it worse. An orthopedic bed is an excellent option if you’re finding yourself losing sleep due to sciatic pain. Plushy, memory foam mattresses can lose their shape quickly and fail to support your spine properly.
- For Stomach Sleepers: Invest in a firmer mattress that aligns your body and keeps you afloat.
- For Side Sleepers: Find a soft mattress that offers support by your hips and shoulders.
- For Back Sleepers: Look for a medium firm mattress that gives you full-body support.
2) Use a Body Pillow
When sleeping with sciatica, use a body pillow when sleeping on your side or just place a regular pillow between your knees. By putting a pillow between your knees, it helps keep your spine, hips, and pelvis aligned.
If sleeping with a pillow seems too bulky or uncomfortable, consider mimicking the same sleeping position without the spine. This will also align your spine with your hips and pelvis.
3) Elevate Your Knees
For some, placing a pillow between their knees when sleeping with sciatica is just not enough. When resting on your back, bend your knees a little. Slip a pillow underneath your knees and continue adding pillows until you find a comfortable position. Try either of the pillow methods to determine which one works best for you as you try to get pain relief from sciatica.
If you are fully committed to finding the perfect sleeping position for sciatica, consider investing in a mechanical bed. One that you can adjust to keep your legs elevated, and fix it to a position that gives you comfort.
4) Take a Bath before Bed
A warm bath can relax you, release pain-fighting endorphins and relax the muscles around your sciatic nerve roots. Your bath water should be warm and pleasant, not hot. Another option is to use a hot water bottle on your lower back or buttock just before bed. Just remember that the temperature should be warm and not hot.
5) Do Some Stretches before Bed
Exercising before bed is not recommended as you can quickly find yourself wide awake from the adrenaline rush. However, simple stretches before bed can reduce sleeping with sciatica pain. Many of these stretches can be done on your bed, so you don’t even need to wake up for them. These are the best stretches for sciatica:
- Knees to chest
- Pelvic tilt
- Knees to opposite shoulder
- Figure 4 stretch
6) Choose Your Best Side
If a pillow isn’t working, which it doesn’t all the time, consider using a tennis ball. Next time you’re putting on your pajamas, choose a pair of pants/shorts with pockets and place a tennis ball on the side you don’t want to sleep on. You’re less likely to shift to the side due to the discomfort of the tennis ball.
7) Sleep on Your Back
There is no “correct” way to sleep with sciatica. Although some people find relief on their side, others find it when sleeping on their back. Try sleeping on your back with knees elevated. If you find that doesn’t work, switch to a side sleeping position. You may even need to switch from one position to the other mid-way through the night.
The secret to finding comfort while sleeping on your back is to offer support to your lower back.
Here’s where a good mattress comes in. If you don’t have a supportive bed, then add a small pillow or throw under your tailbone to offer the stability and support your back needs to feel comfortable in this position.
8) Take Your Prescribed Medications
If your doctor has prescribed you with pain medications, take them as prescribed if your sciatica pain is not allowing you to get any sleep. Rest is essential and can actually aid in the healing process. If you do not want to take any prescribed medications, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can also help reduce some of your sciatica.
9) Develop a Nighttime Routine
After you have taken a bath and completed some stretches, get into comfortable nightwear and relax in your bed. Avoid watching television or using your smartphone just before bed. Create a sleep environment that is peaceful and calm.
Your nighttime routine should be the same one every night. To have better sleeping habits, you must go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including the weekends. Having a set sleeping schedule will help you fall asleep faster.
10) Don’t Sleep on Your Stomach
If possible, it is best to avoid it if you have sciatica. Stomach sleeping is actually considered the worse sleeping position as it flattens the spine’s natural curvature and strains the neck when your head is turned to one side. Even if this position provides sciatica relief, avoid it, so you don’t suffer from back and neck problems in the future.
For those who can only console sleep on their stomach, consider switching your mattress to a medium firm mattress. These type of beds will provide your body the support it needs to stay afloat and keep your spine aligned.
11) Try One of The Best Sleeping Positions for Sciatica
Finding a comfortable sleeping position with sciatica is one of the biggest challenge patients experience. These are some of the best sleeping positions for those suffering from lower back pain due to sciatica.
Use a pillow between your legs – The pillow is there to help align the hips, pelvis, and spine better.
Sleep in a fetal position – When you sleep in this position, you open the space between the vertebrae, providing pressure relief.
Use a pillow under your abdomen – If you can only sleep on your stomach, add a pillow under your abdomen. This is particularly helpful for those with degenerative disc disease.
12) Change Your Neck Pillow
Many people sleep on fluffy pillows that provide very little support. Keeping your cervical spine aligned is highly effective at reducing lower back pain later in the evening. Investing in a supportive, high-quality neck pillow can help you avoid suffering from neck pain, as well as lower back pain, and eventually find a more comfortable position at night.
13) Use Targeted Pain-Relief Solutions
Many patients resource to hot/cold therapies before bedtime to help alleviate their sciatica symptoms. However, these effects can wear down in the middle of the night and patients often wake up without being able to find a comfortable position again.
Using localized pain-relief patches can help provide ongoing pain relief throughout the night. This is particularly helpful when pain symptoms experiences are felt in a very specific area.
14) Try Sciatica Massages at Home
Massage therapy can help ease sciatica symptoms and lower back pain to help you reconcile sleep faster and enjoy a good night’s sleep. Learning some sciatica massages you can do at home can be part of your bedtime routine to make sure your sciatica symptoms don’t flare up at night. Here are some massage techniques for sciatica.
Palm & Thumb Sciatica Massage:
- Start with your palms on your lower back. Rub this area towards your spine and in downward movements towards your buttocks.
- Place your hands at your waist, and wrap your fingers around your sides. Apply firm pressure towards the spine. Make sure the pressure you apply doesn’t cause discomfort.
Knuckle Pressure Sciatica Massage:
- Start lying on your back, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make fists and place them on the right and left side of your lower back.
- Position your fists so your knuckles are against your back.
- Rest in this position for a minute or two.
- Roll on your side and go into a fetal position. Hold this for about five minutes before standing up.
15) Invest in Personal Care Equipment
Invest in personal equipment that can help relieve sciatica symptoms with acupressure. Discuss with your doctor or with a physical therapist before you purchase any of these to see the proper way to use them to help with your sciatica symptoms.
Tennis Balls: Rolling over a tennis ball can provide a gentle sciatica massage that relaxes tense muscles.
Spinal Roller: A thick foam roller that can help relieve hip pain.
Knobble: A more focused acupressure device that can help with hip pain.
Back Buddy: This device is an S-shaped tool that can help provide localized pressure on specific points.
Sleeping with sciatica doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Using some resources and different sleeping techniques can help you find the perfect sleeping position that works for you. Getting the rest while suffering from sciatica is necessary to help your body repair itself and alleviate sciatica symptoms.
If your sciatic pain has become chronic and conservative treatment does not relieve your pain, then it may be an indication that the condition which is causing sciatica may require surgery.
The Bonati Spine Institute offers out-patient, safe and highly effective alternative to traditional open back surgery and spinal fusion. The Bonati Procedures achieve great results in decompressing nerves and resolving the underlying issue to alleviate the pain and treat sciatica.
To learn more about how we may be able to help treat your sciatic pain, you may click here or contact us at (855) 267-0483.
Hear Dr. Bonati talk about Sciatica and it’s treatment options by clicking here