The throbbing pain in your foot. A burning sensation in your calf. Electric pain that runs down your back and through to your legs. Sound familiar? This sudden sciatic nerve pain will jolt you awake in the middle of the night, or keep you from falling asleep in the first place. Fortunately, there are a few simple tricks that can help you sleep more comfortably with sciatica. From light stretching to taking medication, here are a few of the most common approaches to increasing your comfort so you can sleep with sciatica.
10 Tips for Sleeping With Sciatica
- Take a Warm Bath Before Bed
- Do Some Light Stretching
- Use a Neck Pillow
- Try Sciatic Massage
- Elevate Your Knees
- Sleep on a Supportive Mattress
- Use Pain Relief Patches or Creams
- Avoid Your Painful Side
- Use Ice on Any Sore Areas
- Try to Sleep on Your Back
It’s easy to feel helpless when you can’t sleep well — but don’t lose hope! There are many ways to manage sciatic pain so you can get a comfortable night’s sleep at the end of the day.
What Is Sciatica?
Your sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body — running down the spinal cord, into the buttocks, and down into the legs and feet. When the sciatic nerve is compressed or inflamed in any way, you may feel pain in the legs or lower back, or suffer tingling or numbness in the legs or feet. This pain is typically referred to as sciatica. Sciatic nerve pain may be intermittent or chronic pain, and it can range from feeling merely uncomfortable to being debilitatingly painful.
Sciatica can be caused by any number of factors, including the following:
- One vertebra slipping over another — this is called spondylolisthesis
- Degenerative disc disease, or a specific herniated disc
- Lumbar spinal stenosis — which can cause narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back
- Muscle spasms in the buttocks or back
- Lack of exercise
- Wearing high heels
- Sleeping on a mattress that is too soft and unsupportive — mattress firmness is key for controlling sciatic pain and providing the right level of pressure relief.
Some people with sciatica have trouble standing for long periods of time, or even walking or sitting. And many people have trouble sleeping comfortably. To make matters worse, if you feel stressed and worried about falling asleep, that can make it even harder to get a good night’s sleep.
10 Tips for Sleeping With Sciatica
The most important factor may be the firmness of your mattress. Between carefully choosing your sleeping position and ensuring the right level of mattress support for spinal alignment and pressure relief, you can help manage sciatic pain and get a restful night’s sleep.
When it comes to managing your sciatica pain, keep in mind that no single trick or sleeping approach works for everyone. You may need to experiment and keep mixing up your sleeping position in order to control your pain.
1. Take a Warm Bath Before Bed
This may sound too simple to be effective, but many people who suffer from sciatic nerve pain — along with other various aches and pains — find it extremely therapeutic and helpful. A warm bath can help relax the muscles around your sciatic nerve roots, while releasing endorphins that assist pain management.
The bathwater should be warm, but not too hot. You don’t want to raise your body temperature, which can make it even harder to fall asleep. Water that is a warm, comfortable, and comforting temperature can help lull you to sleep. Just try to follow the same routine every night before bed.
Heat therapy, in general, is a good path for chronic pain management. If you’re not a fan of taking baths, you can apply heat in other ways, like hot water bottles or heating pads. You can even try a disposable adhesive back wrap that delivers a constant level of heat.
2. Do Some Light Stretching
Many people who struggle with sciatica have found success by incorporating light stretching into their bedtime routine. Sometimes, sciatica is aggravated by tight muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve — if that’s the case, then stretching can help relax the muscles and minimize irritation and pain.
Take a seat on the floor or exercise mat, and try gently bringing your knees into your chest, doing pelvic tilts and bringing each knee to your opposite shoulder. Make sure to stretch gently — don’t overtax or stress your muscles, which can make the situation worse. For best results, do these stretches before you go to bed and when you first get up in the morning.
3. Use a Neck Pillow
A high-quality neck pillow can be your best friend if you suffer from sciatic pain. If you invest in a good neck pillow that keeps your upper spine straight throughout the night, it will help alleviate lower back pain as well. Most of us love our super fluffy pillows, but — just like a foam mattress that’s too soft — they don’t actually provide us with very much support and can wreck spinal alignment. By keeping your cervical spine aligned, you can also reduce lower back pain. Who knew?
4. Try Sciatica Massage
Massage therapy may help alleviate some symptoms of sciatica — and you can even try it at home. You can rub the small of your back with your palms, using downward motions toward your buttocks — or you can lie on the floor and use your knuckles under your back to apply pressure against your lower back. You can also reach out to massage therapists in your area and ask about their techniques and services for treating sciatica.
5. Elevate Your Knees
Sciatica typically flares up when any of the sciatic roots in your lower back are compressed or irritated in some way. By sleeping with your knees elevated, you can minimize pressure on your lumbar discs, which can provide pressure relief and help you sleep more comfortably. While lying on your back, you can simply slide a pillow under your knees for support. If one pillow isn’t enough, you can keep adding more until you reach a level of elevation that feels most comfortable for you.
If you prefer sleeping on your side, you can still elevate your knees in much the same way — simply prop pillows underneath your top knee so that your hips are squared while you sleep. Some sleepers put a body pillow between their knees to get the right level of comfort.
6. Sleep on a Supportive Mattress
Some sciatica pain sufferers swear by sleeping on the floor, but we think that sounds a little extreme. The floor is not the cleanest place around, after all. Plus, the unforgiving firmness of the hard floor may be too much for most sleepers. But you can make sure to sleep on a firmer mattress, which offers your back adequate support and pressure relief. Mattress types that use soft foam — even gel memory foam mattress — can allow you to sink too deeply into the bed and have bad posture while you sleep, which eventually can lead to pain. But a high-quality mattress with pocketed coils and a supportive comfort layer, like the Purple™ Grid, can give you just the right level of support where you need it.
7. Use Pain Relief Patches or Creams
Pain relief patches or creams, especially those containing capsaicin or menthol, can often give people tremendous relief from sciatic nerve pain. Sometimes, the comfort can last as long as eight hours, giving you a full night’s respite from sciatic pain. Simply apply the patch or cream to your lower back or legs before going to sleep and then dream the night away, pain-free.
8. Avoid Your Painful Side
For many people with sciatica, one side may be more painful than the other. Sometimes, when we toss and turn at night, we end up on our more painful side. This should be avoided whenever possible. Some sciatica pain sufferers even put a tennis ball in the pocket of their pajama pants to prevent them from rolling onto their painful side. The bulky ball will let you know to roll over to the other side. And if your jammies don’t have pockets, you can always sleep in workout shorts or pants that have them.
9. Use Ice on Any Sore Areas
A few minutes before bedtime, you can also ice sore spots like the tailbone, lower back and buttocks for about 20 minutes in order to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Check with your doctor for sure on the duration, depending on where your pain is most acute.Try to Sleep on Your Back
There’s no one right way to sleep — but if sciatica is keeping you from getting a decent night’s rest, it might be worth trying to train yourself to sleep on your back in the supine position, especially with your knees elevated. This is one of the best sleeping positions that provides relief for many people. In particular, stomach sleeping is considered the worst for sciatica because it flattens out your spine’s natural curvature and strains your neck. So even if you’re getting temporary sciatica relief by sleeping on your stomach, you might be causing yourself more long-term back and neck problems by sleeping this way.
Can Sciatica Be Caused by a Bad Mattress?
While it’s unlikely that a mattress is the root cause of sciatic nerve pain, a bad mattress can certainly exacerbate the problem. An unsupportive sleeping surface often contributes to the discomfort and may even make your symptoms worse. Your spine needs plenty of support, and if you don’t have a good mattress, it’s easy for those sciatic nerve roots to become compressed.
In general, if you’re a back sleeper, you want a firm mattress that encourages spinal alignment. For side sleepers, you may want to go a little softer but still find a mattress that supports your hips and shoulders. And for tummy sleepers, a medium-firm mattress can offer adequate support, though it’s a good idea to sleep with a pillow or foam pad tucked under your stomach.
The secret to taming sciatica is to support your spine — especially your lower back — and a firm mattress is best suited for this task. If you think your soft foam mattress might be causing your back pain, pay attention to when your pain is most acute. If it’s bothersome when you first wake up, but goes away after some light stretching or after a few minutes of regular activity, that’s a good sign that your mattress may be the culprit. If you find yourself tossing and turning during the night, struggling to stay comfortable, that may also be a clue that the foam layer of your mattress isn’t providing enough back support.
If you are sleeping on an older mattress, keep in mind that the average mattress lifespan is about 10 years. It makes sense to invest in a new mattress that provides the level of support and pressure relief you need. Changing your mattress may actually do wonders for alleviating your pain. You can check out plenty of mattress reviews to get an idea of which type might work best for you — and don’t forget that Purple mattresses are great for alleviating sciatica nerve pain.
How to Sleep With Sciatica
It can be very difficult to sleep well when you suffer from sciatic issues. You’re ready to go to sleep, but your sciatica symptoms are just getting started. Fortunately, you don’t have to let nerve pain keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. While you may not be able to make sciatic pain go away completely, you can often lessen the symptoms enough to get a good night’s sleep. If you follow the tips here and sleep on a supportive, high-quality mattress, you’ll be on your way to a restful sleep free from pain.