Hip Pain at Night and in the Morning: Why It Happens and How to Find Relief

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 11 minLast updated June 4, 2021

Waking up with hip pain at night or in the morning is a surprise, but it’s never a pleasant one.

After all, pain is a powerful distraction (to say the least) that can affect your sleep quality and, consequently, your overall well-being. 

Here’s the good news, though:

There’s always a solution. And that’s what we will try to find today. Let’s see what might be causing your hip pain in the morning after sleeping and during the night. And of course, let’s take a look at the potential solutions to this problem.

What Causes Hip Pain at Night and in the Morning

If you have started experiencing hip pain in the morning after sleeping or during the night, you probably want to know what causes it.

And that’s the first step in trying to resolve this issue. Once you know the source of the problem, it will be much easier for you to find an effective, working method that could bring relief.

So, let’s take a look at the most common reasons that might be standing behind your hip pain:

  • An overly firm mattress. Even the most comfortable mattress can cause hip pain if it’s too firm for your body type and preferred sleeping position. For example, if you are a petite individual (less than 130 pounds) who sleeps on a firm (or even a medium-firm mattress), you can wake up with pain. Or, let’s say you’re an average user who has a firm mattress but prefers to sleep on their side. Because your body crashes into the surface of the mattress, does not compress the comfort layers enough, and does not get the needed hug, you are likely to wake up feeling pain in the morning. So, if your hip hurts after sleeping on the side or you notice any sensitive pressure points, chances are your mattress is too stiff for you. 
  • An overly soft mattress. Surprisingly, a heavenly soft mattress may also result in hip pain while sleeping. When the mattress is too soft and cannot support your body properly (in other words, you can’t keep it relatively straight while maintaining the natural curve of the spine), it may cause your body to fall into misalignment. As a result, some parts of the body (usually back and hips) experience too much tension build-up. And as you can guess,  accumulated pressure can lead to pain (1).
  • An awkward sleeping position. Lying in an awkward position can also cause your spine to fall into misalignment. Naturally, this can lead to stiffness and pain upon waking up (2) (not only in your back but also in the hips if they experience the most pressure build-up during the night).
  • Muscle strain. Muscle strain can occur if you pull or use it beyond its limit. It’s a common result of sports activities or prolonged overuse of the hip (3) that may be linked to your work, for example. Muscle strain is usually characterized by a sharp pain that can spread from your hips to the pelvis or the upper legs.
  • Fracture. Falling is the most common cause of hip fractures, especially in the elderly whose bones are weaker due to natural age-related degeneration (4). Hip fractures are typically accompanied by swelling, bruising, and hip pain.
  • Inflammation. Inflammation can build-up in our tissues during the day, and in most cases, it’s rather subtle and not too disturbing. However, sometimes inflammation may flare up, which typically happens in the morning after we sleep (and give it enough time to settle in our muscles). This often causes stiffness and slight pain in the morning, which you can reduce by stretching gently. With time, however, inflammation can build-up in certain parts of one’s body, which often leads to certain medical conditions that cause pain aggravation.
  • Hip bursitis. This condition occurs when bursae (the small sacs filled with liquid that serve to cushion the hip joints) become inflamed. Bursitis is often associated with pain targeting the outer part of the hip (5). It can also spread down the thigh.
  • Hip tendonitis. Tendons are fibrous structures that serve to attach muscles to the hip bone. When tendons get inflamed, you may experience such tendonitis symptoms as tenderness and pain (6), which can worsen after any physical activity or even going up the stairs. Most experts recommend rest when dealing with tendonitis, but it doesn’t mean that pain disappears when you lie down. Sadly, it can disturb you even during sleep.
  • Hip arthritis. Also known as the inflammation of the joints, arthritis is a progressive disorder that is among the most common reasons behind hip pain. Its symptoms typically include hip pain that can spread over the groin, buttocks, or outer thighs. People with arthritis often note that pain worsens in the morning and after extended activity (7).
  • Sciatica. This disorder affects the sciatic nerve, the longest one in the body. That’s why the pain associated with sciatica often radiates down one side from the lower back and can even reach the knee (8). Naturally, it can also involve hip pain. And because the range of pain can be quite large sometimes, people often confuse sciatica with other issues (like restless leg syndrome, for example).

How to Find Relief: Effective Methods and Extra Tips

Hip pain at night or in the morning can become your worst enemy.

However, there’s always a chance of improving the situation. Especially if you understand how to “navigate” your hip pain and make yourself feel more comfortable during the night despite this unpleasant symptom.

So, here are a few tricks you can try to lessen hip pain while you sleep:

  • Get a new mattress. If your mattress is either too firm or too soft, you can experience more hip pain in the morning after sleeping or during the night (which can lead to frequent awakenings). Therefore, it’s important to understand what firmness level would work for your body type and sleep position. Typically, side sleepers are advised to pick softer mattresses, back sleepers – medium, and stomach sleepers – firm. However, these are general recommendations, and you need to account for your weight as well. For instance, if you are a heavier user (over 230 pounds) who likes sleeping on their stomach, you might want to find the best extra-firm mattress (check out our suggestions here). If you are a petite individual (less than 130 pounds), you need to choose a softer mattress for each sleep position. And keep in mind that the best mattress for hip pain has to be supportive and cradling at the same time (unless you’re a strict stomach sleeper who requires more support).  
  • Change your sleeping position. Perhaps, your current sleep position is causing your spine to fall into misalignment and, consequently, leads to hip pain. In this case, simply switching from one position to another can help you alleviate (or even get rid of) hip pain. By the way, a good, supportive chiropractor-recommended mattress can help you maintain a proper sleep posture by delivering a harmonious combo of pressure relief and support. Keep in mind that back sleeping is often considered the best sleep position (9) as it creates optimal conditions for proper spinal alignment during the night. Read more about sleep positions here
  • Add pillows for extra support. Using pillows as an auxiliary tool can help you achieve a more comfortable position that would put less stress on your tender hips. For example, if you are a side sleeper, placing a pillow between the knees can help with proper hip and back alignment. A full-body pillow might also come in handy in this case. When lying on your back, add a pillow or a rolled towel under your knees to reduce stress from the lower back and the hips. You can also put a wedge pillow under the lower back to shift the weight away from your sore hips.
  • Alter the feel of your mattress. If you are sure that your mattress is the one to blame for hip pain but aren’t ready to invest in a new one, you can try changing the way it feels. For example, if your mattress lacks support or has sagged, you can add a layer of plywood to create a solid, more supportive base for it. Just put the plywood between the mattress and the foundation, and your bed might start feeling slightly firmer. Another way to make your old mattress more comfortable for sleeping with hip pain is by adding a topper. There are plenty of options among the best mattress toppers for hip pain, so you can choose according to your requirements. Thicker models are typically softer and provide more cradling. As for thinner (and denser) mattress toppers, they are meant to offer that extra support your mattress might be lacking.
  • Talk to your doctor. The best way to figure out how to sleep better with hip pain is by understanding the source of the issue. Only by professional diagnostics, you will be able to discover the core of the problem and treat it accordingly. That’s why it might be a good idea to share your concerns with your doctor. Once a professional figures out the source of your hip pain, it will be much easier to get rid of the discomfort. They can prescribe suitable anti-inflammatory medications or pick the most effective treatment option so that you don’t have to bear hip pain anymore.
  • Use heat treatment. In many cases, when the pain isn’t very severe, you can apply ice packs to your sore hip 15-20 minutes prior to sleep. It can help reduce inflammation and hence, alleviate the pain a little (if you’re lucky, just enough to help you drift off to sleep easily).
  • Stretch before and after sleep. You don’t have to be vigorous. On the contrary, gentle stretches work the best in this case. They can help you relax and reduce pressure from the hips, which can often lead to lower pain levels.
  • Watch your posture during the day. Spinal misalignment can aggravate your hip pain. That’s why it’s crucial to watch how you move or sit during the day. Try to avoid standing with your weight concentrated on one side of the body (relying mostly on one leg while relaxing the other one). Also, try not to sit cross-legged. And of course, watch your back and avoid slouching. These simple tricks will help you keep your spine properly aligned during the day, thus minimizing pressure build-up (including in the hips).

F.A.Q.

Why is hip pain worse at night?

In most cases, hip pain gets worse during the night because you are lying directly on the affected tissue/joint. There’s too much pressure on the tender body part that keeps building up all through the night. As a result, you are likely to feel sorer in the morning.

What is the fastest way to relieve hip pain?

Aside from pain medications (which you should take only according to your doctor’s prescription), the fastest way to relieve hip pain is applying an ice pack or switching your current position that’s causing such an unpleasant sensation.

How should I sleep with hip pain?

To sleep more comfortably with hip pain, you may want to use pillows strategically. If you are a back sleeper, place one under your knees. If you sleep on one side, put a pillow between the knees. And if you are a stomach sleeper, you can place a flat pillow under your stomach to avoid unhealthy spine curvature during the night.

How do I know if my hip pain is caused by a serious problem?

You should talk to your doctor immediately if you notice sudden swelling or experience intense pain (often sudden) that interferes with your daily life. Inability to move your hip or leg (or to shift your weight on the affected side) might also be a sign that it’s time to seek professional help.

Wrapping Up

Sleeping with hip pain is not a piece of cake, but it doesn’t mean you can’t deal with it.

After all, there are different methods you can try to improve the situation and relieve that annoying soreness. You can try sleeping on a different mattress, adding a comfortable topper, changing your sleep position, using extra pillows, and so on. However, never hesitate to consult your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

So, is your hip pain ruining your sleep completely, or are you managing to get some rest nonetheless? And what remedies have you already tried? Let us know in the comments below!

References:

  1. Peter Buckle, Avalino Fernandes (February, 1998). Mattress evaluation—assessment of contact pressure, comfort and discomfort. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003687097000239 
  2. Doug Cary, Kathy Briffa, and Leanda McKenna (June 28, 2019). Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609073/
  3. Hospital for Special Surgery (n.d.). Strained Hip. Retrieved from https://www.hss.edu/condition-list_strained-hip.asp
  4. Harvard Health Publishing by Harvard Medical School (April 2020). Hip Fracture. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/hip-fracture-a-to-z
  5. Stephanie Watson (September 29, 2018). Trochanteric Bursitis. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/trochanteric-bursitis
  6. Amy McGorry (n.d.). Hip Tendonitis. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/hip-tendonitis#1
  7. Washington University Physicians (n.d.). Arthritis of the Hip. Retrieved from https://www.ortho.wustl.edu/content/Patient-Care/3207/Services/Hip-Knee/Adult-Reconstruction-and-Hip-Preservation-Overview/Arthritis-of-the-Hip.aspx
  8. Steven J. Atlas (October 22, 2019). Taming the pain of sciatica: For most people, time heals and less is more. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/taming-pain-sciatica-people-time-heals-less-2017071212048
  9. Mindy Berry Walker (March 09, 2021). Which Sleep Style Is Healthiest? Retrieved from https://www.health.com/mind-body/which-sleep-style-is-healthiest?

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