If you have experienced sciatica, you may find it difficult to fall asleep from the pain associated with it, or it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in the calf or even in the toes. Certain sleep positions can cause sciatica pain in the morning. Also, chronic pain can lead to insomnia, so there are many reasons to learn more about the connection between sciatica and sleep quality.
What Is Sciatica?
Before we dive into tips for how to manage sleeping with sciatica, let’s talk a little about what sciatica is and what causes it.
Sciatica refers to pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve, radiating from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down each leg to the foot. Sciatica usually affects just one side of the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can happen when the sciatic nerve is pinched, sometimes from a bone spur located on the spine, a herniated disk, or spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine),
Tips for Sleeping With Sciatica
Here are 8 tips for sleeping with lower back pain and sciatica from various experts and some picks for a few products that can help you.
1) Try Out Different Sleeping Positions
The best sleeping position for sciatica may not be helpful if it’s too far from your regular comfort position and your default sleeping position, so here are several to try:
- Sleeping on the back. This is considered by many to be the best sleeping position for sciatica. Place a pillow (or several of different shapes and sizes) under your knees. If you’re not a natural back sleeper, you may find “blocking in” your body with pillows framing your sides under each arm can help you adapt.
- For side sleepers, placing a pillow between your thighs can help. A contoured pillow may be a good investment, as it tends to stay in place and feel more comfortable to grip than a bed pillow.
2) Consider your Mattress
A worn-out mattress or inferior brand mattress may not be providing enough support for your back. A quality mattress is worthwhile if you have back pain, considering that you spend about a third of your life in bed and the quality of your sleep affects your waking hours, too. Look for one like the Nectar Sleep mattress that’s supportive in the right way and gets high marks specifically from other consumers looking for a mattress that helps the back.
3) Create a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Ritual
A warm (not hot) bath with Epsom salts can help you unwind and ease tight muscles; try the lavender-scented version for added relaxation.
4) Work it Out
Try these six easy exercises that you can do in bed that are aimed specifically at stretching out the sciatic nerve. And if you want an extremely effective way to work out sciatic pain before you hit the mattress, do this on the floor to target the trigger points that cause your pain. There’s a reason this video by Vitality Massage has over 4 million views; these sciatic pain relief exercises work!
5) Schedule Daytime Therapy to Help you Sleep at Night
As described in this article by Prevention.com, trigger point massage can target the piriformis muscle beneath the glutes and muscles in the lower back to reduce sciatic pain. Other therapies recommended include chiropractic treatment and acupuncture—either traditional or with warmed needles.
6) Try Supplements
Interestingly, another Prevention.com article on dealing with pregnancy and sciatica may offer help for anyone who wants to know how to sleep with sciatica. It was found that in animals, at least, magnesium supplementation may improve sciatic nerve regeneration and decrease inflammatory response in mice. Magnesium supplements can help with sleep in multiple ways, as explained by Healthline.
Prevention.com also suggests that devil’s claw, an herbal remedy, can help with sciatic pain through potent anti-inflammatory properties. If you decide to try devil’s claw, make sure to check the lists of potential side effects and interactions provided by WebMD.
Other physicians also suggest additional supplements that may help with sciatic nerve pain, such as fish oil, curcumin, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and GLA, and benfotiamine.
7) Add a Bit of Heat, Safely
An old-fashioned water bottle or an electric heating pad with a vital automatic shut-off feature for safety can ease sciatic pain as you head into sleep. You may want to consider an infrared heating pad, as some studies indicate infrared heat may help with pain relief.
8) Try Other Devices
Try other devices that are marketed as being helpful for sciatic pain and piriformis syndrome. Some of these include Sacro WedgyⓇ devices, back braces, and various hip/groin braces advertised for providing compression, which reviewers give mixed reviews for helping with sciatic pain.
How to Sleep With Piriformis Syndrome
There is another condition besides sciatic that has similar symptoms. Piriformis syndrome happens when a flat, band-like muscle in the buttocks area—the piriformis muscle—starts to spasm and cause pain. It can be hard to know whether you have sciatica or piriformis syndrome, but if you’d like an in-depth comparison, you can view this explanation of some of the differences. WebMD noted that piriformis syndrome is not that common and needs to be diagnosed by a trained physician, possibly recommending an MRI.
If you’ve been diagnosed with piriformis syndrome, the best sleep position is lying on your back, with a pillow propped under your knees and support placed under your lower back. You can use a rolled-up towel. However, like sciatica, other physicians prefer the side-sleeping position with a pillow or two between the knees.
Prevention is always preferable to treating a condition. You can prevent sciatica from worsening during the night by trying to retrain your habits to avoid sleeping in a curled or a fetal position. But if you do get sciatica, follow the exercises and other tips above to get relief.