Sleeping With Lower Back Pain And Sciatica: 3 Sleeping Positions That Can Help Relieve The Pain

Sciatica refers to nerve pain felt in the leg caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. Sciatic nerve pain in your lower back feels like a continuous burning sensation or shooting pain. It originates in the lower back and radiates down to your glutes, the back of the thigh, and lower leg. 

However, you may feel discomfort anywhere along the natural path of the sciatic nerve.

Typically, sciatica only affects one side of your body, and pain in your lower back is considered acute when it occurs suddenly and resolves within a week. However, it could become chronic when symptoms progress longer than six months.

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Sleep is vital for lower back pain caused by sciatica

Quality sleep is an essential part of a healthy life and helps improve your overall well-being. However, if you have lower back pain, it may seriously impact the quality and amount of sleep you get. Sleeping well in the appropriate position is very important in relieving lower back pain and sciatica.  Finding the right position reduces strain on the back, which can help you fall asleep and prevent sleep disruption.

Quality sleep can help better manage and relieve your pain. Insufficient sleep can make you more sensitive to pain, which can worsen your sciatica symptoms. It also blocks the painkilling centers in your brain¹, making pain medications less effective.

Sleeping positions that can help improve the pain and help you get a better night's sleep

While there is no such thing as the perfect sleeping position, experimenting with the following can help relieve your sciatica pain. It’s important to maintain a good spinal alignment while sleeping, to reduce strain and stress through the spine. Supporting your spine will ensure less pain during the day and higher-quality sleep.

You should also consult your physician for helpful advice on what position is best for your condition.

Sleeping on your back

Lying supine – with your face and torso facing up - is considered one of the better sleep postures for sciatica patients. This position can help ease the pressure on the sciatic nerve, relieving your back pain. You can attempt this position by following these steps:

  1. Gently lie on your back, ensuring your entire body is in contact with the bed.

  2. Slightly elevate your knees and place pillows below them. The number of pillows is entirely dependent on what makes you more comfortable.

  3. If sleeping in this position is still uncomfortable for you, place extra pillows on either side of your back, behind your knees, underneath your arms, and a supportive pillow under your neck.

  4. You can also set a thin pillow or a rolled-up towel under your lower back to keep your spine in a neutral position by reducing the space underneath. 

Sleeping on your side

Sleeping on your side reduces the pressure on your lower back by easing the tension on your sciatic nerve. Research² suggests that sleeping on your side is potentially the best position for lower back pain relief.

  1. Gently shift to your painless side while keeping your hips straight.

  2. Slowly curl up your knees towards your chest, keeping them bent at 90 degrees.

  3. Making your comfort a priority, you may choose to add pillows between your knees and another to support your neck.

  4. Place a pillow underneath your waist to make you more comfortable throughout the night.

  5. Alternate between your left and right side to maximize comfort.

Sleeping on the floor

Sleeping on the floor has been shown to offer relief from back pain and improve sleep³ since it can help maintain the spine’s natural alignment.

  1. Place a yoga or other thin mat on the floor.

  2. Sleep on the mat in any of the positions mentioned above that you find most comfortable.

  3. You can consider placing a rolled-up towel under the arch of the lower back for additional support.

Sleeping positions to avoid

While some sleeping positions can help relieve sciatica pain, others only worsen your condition. 

Sleeping on your stomach

Lying in a prone position (on your stomach) is not a recommended sleeping position for people with sciatica. This position can potentially increase compression on the sciatic nerve, which may worsen symptoms. This may not be the position for you if you experience pain while standing or walking.

Extra tips to improve your sleep

  • Don't sleep on a soft mattress, as this may worsen your condition.  Research shows that a medium-firm⁴ mattress is ideal for getting proper sleep. 

  • Take a warm bath before bedtime to help soothe your lower back and relax your mind.

  • Add light stretching to your daily routine. This helps relieve the tightness in your back muscles and the pressure from your sciatic nerve. Seek advice from your doctor before performing any stretches.

  • Consider investing in an adjustable bed so that you can fine-tune your postures to ensure that you have a good night's sleep.

When should you visit a doctor for your lower back pain?

If your sciatica does not improve on its own after one week, it is highly recommended that you see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

You should seek immediate medical attention if your lower back pain or sciatica occurs after a traumatic event like a road accident or if it happens with other symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, or loss of bladder control.

The lowdown

Sciatica is an uncomfortable and painful condition that can result in low-quality sleep. However, the sleeping positions and tips discussed above can make your nights a lot easier. Be sure to speak with your doctor about the best sleeping positions for your specific type of lower back pain.

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