How to Sleep with Sciatica Pain: Finding the Best Sleeping Position

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 7 minLast updated August 20, 2020

Sciatica can greatly affect your everyday life and, of course, sleep quality.

And when you don’t get enough rest, this may lead to sleep deprivation and some serious long term health consequences  (1). 

Sciatica pain can cause you to not rest well. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to sleep with sciatica and which sleep position is best for maximum comfort.

Understanding Sciatica and How It Affects Sleep

To find the best way to sleep with sciatica, you may first want to get a better idea of what this condition is and how it impacts your body.

Sciatica is a symptom of sciatic nerve irritation, causing pain that typically radiates from the lower back (2). Many times, sciatica is related to an underlying problem and may require a visit to your healthcare professional. This nerve is quite large. It starts from the lower back and goes all the way through the hips, buttocks, and down each leg (3). No wonder sciatica can cause such a variety of unpleasant sensations.

Leading Causes Sciatica

Source: https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/sciatica/6-leading-causes-sciatica

Typically, sciatica affects only one side of the body; however, this may vary from case to case. The symptoms usually include:

  • radiating leg pain (4);
  • lower-back pain;
  • numbness or weakness of the leg or foot;
  • hip pain;
  • constant pain along one side (typically, hip and leg).

Clearly, all of these symptoms will hardly let you sleep comfortably. When you’re in pain, it’s almost impossible to relax, which can lead to fewer sleep hours and reduced sleep quality.

Additionally sciatic nerve pain, may become worse or develop because of poor sleep quality (5). Unfortunately, poor sleep quality can cause increased sciatic nerve pain and alternatively sciatic nerve pain can cause poor sleep quality.

You see, when lying down — especially if your mattress doesn’t provide proper spine alignment — you put pressure on your lower back and hips, which can cause the sciatic nerve to compress even more. This can make you experience shooting pains and flair-ups when trying to find a comfortable position.

So, what can you do in this case?

First, find a suitable sleeping position (you will see the guidelines below). And second, pick the right mattress for sciatica. It must be supportive enough to keep your spine properly aligned while offering good pressure relief and alleviating the pain.

Which Sleeping Position Is the Best for Sciatica?

People have specific preferences when it comes to sleep.

But here’s the deal:

Different positions can put pressure on different parts of your body, either increasing or reducing sciatica pain. Finding the best sleep position for sciatica is not an easy task but it can guarantee your comfort during nights to come.

So, let’s see what options you have.

Side Sleepers

Sleeping on one’s side is the most popular position. When you’re on your side, you don’t lie directly on your back and hence don’t put pressure on the sciatic nerve and the nearby discs. That’s why side sleeping might be the best position to sleep with sciatica.

However, there are some drawbacks too. This position puts pressure on the hips, which can often hurt because of sciatica. If the pain only occurs on one side, you should lie strictly on the other one to reduce the tension. You also need a suitable mattress for side sleepers with lower back pain that will be able to provide enough cushioning and pressure relief for your lumbar area in this sleeping position. Memory foam and latex typically show the best results when it comes to pressure relief.

If you are experiencing back pain associated with sciatica, to make sleeping more comfortable, you can try putting a pillow between the legs to align the hips and reduce tension and pain (6). Depending on your body type, you may also require an extra neck pillow.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers usually lie flat so that their spine is naturally aligned without much effort. However, some studies found that the supine position may lead to lumbar pain (7), which means it’s not perfect for people with sciatica.

Still, if you want to continue sleeping on your back, it is important to reduce the pressure in areas where the sciatic nerve can be the most affected: lumbar discs and lower back.

To do that, you may want to elevate your knees a bit with the help of a pillow (or at least a rolled towel) (8). You can place as many pillows as you want but only as long as you feel comfortable and don’t experience any pain.

If your mattress doesn’t conform to the shape of your body closely enough, you can also add a thin pillow under the lumbar area and your neck.

And speaking of your mattress, it’s important to ensure proper support. Your bed should have a balanced feel and combine reliable support with proper contouring. Research suggests that medium-firm models are quite effective when it comes to low back pain (9), but you also need to pay attention to the materials used. Typically, hybrid mattresses can offer that harmonious combo of support and cradling.

Stomach Sleepers

If you have sciatica and sleep on your stomach, you may want to consider making some changes. This sleeping position is considered to be the worst for sciatica, unfortunately. It causes more tension on the sciatic nerve, hips, neck muscles, and shoulders. Sleeping on your stomach can create an unnatural curve in your spine, which may only increase the pain.

However, if you can’t fight this and absolutely have to sleep on your stomach, the least you can do is make sure your mattress is suitable for this sleeping position. It has to be very supportive and firm enough to prevent your hips from sinking in. Try to use a thin pillow (or no pillow at all) to prevent an unwanted neck curve as well.

How to Sleep with Sciatica While Pregnant?

How to Sleep with Sciatica While Pregnant

Source: https://www.verywellfamily.com/sciatica-during-pregnancy-4580546

Pregnancy can worsen sciatica pain due to increased pressure on the spine and internal organs. After all, as your baby is becoming bigger and bigger, your spinal region has to support more weight. Which means it’s under excessive pressure all the time.

Now, to alleviate sciatica pain, you may want to sleep on your side. Placing a pillow under the abdomen may help you feel more comfortable and reduce back pain (11). While the left side is typically recommended due to promoted blood flow, it’s better to sleep on your non-affected side.

You can also try putting a pillow between the knees and curling them up a bit closer to your stomach. A full body pillow (or a special pregnancy pillow) may also help you find a comfortable sleeping position and reduce the sciatic nerve pressure.

So, what type of sleeper are you? And what have you already tried to deal with sciatica? You’re welcome to share in the comments.

F.A.Q.

Can you sleep on your side with sciatica?

Yes, but you may need to put a pillow between your knees for improved comfort.

Which side to sleep on with sciatica?

It’s better to sleep on the side opposite to the one where your sciatica nerve is compressed.

Can sciatica sufferers sleep on the floor?

Sleeping on the floor is not recommended. Sleeping on such a firm surface can create more pressure points in your body and put more tension on your sciatica nerve.

References:

  1. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School (2007, December 18). Sleep and Disease Risk. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk
  2. Jean-PierreValatMD, PhD (April 2010). Sciatica. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1521694209001417?casa_token=OoP3WeGX1OUAAAAA:ZvkhsAZW_pDkLMLm3WcSDBMqIBGHcPLIINOWtRPyWy7Mr729l0O4NtG9JhwhCKI7e1pDJFoawro
  3. Abitbol, J., MD. (2020, March 30). Causes of Sciatica and Sciatic Nerve Pain. Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/sciatica/6-leading-causes-sciatica
  4. B. W. Koes, M. W. van Tulder, W. C. Peul (2007, June 23). Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1895638/
  5. Parreira, P., Maher, C. G., Steffens, D., Hancock, M. J., & Ferreira, M. L. (2018). Risk factors for low back pain and sciatica: an umbrella review. The Spine Journal18(9), 1715-1721.
  6. Medical Encyclopedia (n.d.). Taking care of your back at home. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002119.htm
  7. Doug Cary, Kathy Briffa, Leanda McKenna (2019, June 28). 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/
  8. Peter Derman, MD, MBA (2020, April 16). 3 Little-Known Tips for Sleeping with Sciatica. Retrieved from https://www.spine-health.com/blog/3-little-known-tips-sleeping-sciatica
  9. Victor Ancuelle, Rodrigo Zamudio, Andrea Mendiola, Daniel Guillen, Pedro J Ortiz, Tania Tello, Darwin Vizcarra (2015, November). Effects of an adapted mattress in musculoskeletal pain and sleep quality in institutionalized elders. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1984006315000589
  10. Herndon, J. R., MS, MPH. (2020, April 10). An Overview of Sciatica During Pregnancy. Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/sciatica-during-pregnancy-4580546
  11. American Pregnancy Association (n.d.). Sleeping Position in Pregnancy. Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/sleeping-positions-during-pregnancy/

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