Best Sleeping Positions for a Herniated Disc

Sleep Soundly with Sciatica: Sciatic Nerve Pain Relief at Night

Sleeping with sciatica is often difficult. Pain in the low back, the buttock, and down the back of the leg can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Luckily, there are some things you can do to find the best sciatica sleeping position. Read on to find out more.

Those who experience sciatica pain while sleeping are usually putting pressure on their spine, which irritates the sciatic nerve. The best sleeping positions are those that maintain the natural curvature of the spine. However, depending on the type of mattress you have, this could be challenging.

Can I Sleep On My Side With Sciatica?

Many people are side sleepers. They may not start the night’s sleep this way, but they often end up lying on their side during the night. This is why questions about side sleeping with sciatica are so common. Many sciatica sufferers don’t even realize that they sleep on their side until they wake up in pain in the middle of the night to find that they’re on their side and that their sciatica is flaring up.

Other people prefer to sleep on their side and wonder whether they can do so with sciatica. The truth is that you can sleep on your side with sciatica — provided you do it correctly.

The best way to sleep on your side with sciatica is with a pillow between your knees.

If you sleep on your side without a pillow between your knees, your spine is pulled out of alignment as your hips tilt. And since most sciatica is caused by a herniated disc in the lower back, this kind of sleeping position can be painful, causing a flare-up and keeping you up at night.

But with a pillow between your knees, you’re able to keep your hips aligned, which keeps your spine straight while you sleep, which is just what you need when sleeping with sciatica.

But what if you don’t sleep on your side? Let’s answer another common question sciatica sufferers pose.

How Should I Lay With Sciatica?

This is a broader question but one whose answer can benefit all types of sleepers. Most people don’t sleep in one position the whole night, so if you’re suffering from sciatica, it’s important to understand how you should lie with sciatica.

There are so many variables at play here, such as mattress firmness, preferred sleeping position, and the precise cause of sciatica, that it’s hard to give one blanket recommendation. However, there’s one rule to keep in mind regarding how you should lie with sciatica: Keep your spine neutral.

As discussed above regarding side sleeping, when your spine is pulled out of neutral, it often causes sciatic nerve pain. And sleeping on your side without a pillow between your legs isn’t the only way to pull your spine out of neutral. Depending on your mattress, you can also do this by sleeping on your back.

To sum up, how you should lay with sciatica, we’ll put it this way: Lie whichever is most comfortable for you while keeping your spine neutral. This may take some trial and error, but with the tips in the section below, you’ll be able to determine the best way to lay for your particular situation.

Best Sleeping Position for Sciatic Nerve Pain Relief at Night

There is no one best sleeping position for sciatica nerve pain. The best sleeping position for you may not be the best for others. However, there are some tips and best practices that will help you find the best sleeping position so you can get much-needed rest and heal from sciatica.

Side Sleepers

As mentioned above, side sleepers should place a pillow between their knees for best results. For most people, a firm pillow will work best, or a soft pillow folded in half. Side sleepers may also consider putting a small pillow under their waist to maintain the alignment between ribs and hips. This will help to support the spine, as well.

  • Sleep with a pillow between your knees.
  • Firm pillows work best, but any pillow is better than none.
  • Try a small pillow under the waist if it is comfortable.
  • A pillow between the legs also helps prevent twisting during the night.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers can benefit from a strategically placed pillow, as well. But instead of putting it between the knees, back sleepers should put the pillow under the backs of their knees. This keeps the legs slightly elevated, which can help prevent the legs from tilting the pelvis and therefore pulling the spine out of neutral.

If you sleep on your back but end up on your side during the night, you may want to use a body pillow next to you to prevent this from happening while you sleep.

  • Elevate your knees to maintain a neutral curve of the spine.
  • If you change positions during the night, use a pillow next to you to keep this from happening.

Mattress Firmness

The type of mattress you use can also affect how you sleep with sciatica. Studies show that the best overall mattress for back pain and sciatica is one of medium to medium-firm softness. However, this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Those who have a higher body mass index may need a different mattress than those who are in the “normal” weight range.

A mattress with adjustable firmness can benefit anyone with sciatica as they can adjust the bed to help keep their spine neutral depending on their desired position.

Worst Sleeping Position for Sciatic Nerve Pain

There is one sleeping position we haven’t discussed yet, and that’s because it should be avoided at all times: stomach sleeping. Not only is stomach sleeping the worst sleeping position for sciatica, but it’s also the worst sleeping position for the spine in general. There is essentially no way to sleep on your stomach without putting some part of your spine into an unhealthy position.

So if you have sciatica and you’re a stomach sleeper, you’ll want to avoid sleeping on your stomach at least until sciatica heals. If possible, train yourself to sleep on your side or your back from now on.

Sleeping With Sciatica While Pregnant

Unfortunately, sciatica and pregnancy go hand-in-hand for many women. And while sleep is important for everyone, pregnant women need more sleep than average adults. But with sciatica, sleep is often difficult, as it compounds the many other changes women go through when pregnant.

Luckily, there is a consensus on how best to sleep with sciatica when pregnant: on the side. While some medical professionals suggest pregnant women sleep on their left side, studies show that both left and right side sleeping are equally safe. Putting a pillow between the knees and under the waist can help pregnant side sleepers experience relief from sciatica.

There are also other ways that pregnant women can help relieve sciatica. These natural sciatica remedies for pregnant mothers are safe, non-invasive, and effective.

Avoiding Sciatica Flare-Ups So You Can Sleep Better

It’s important to note here that changing your sleeping position may help you get better sleep with sciatica, but it’s not likely to significantly affect the healing process. If you want to sleep better, your best bet is to get rid of sciatica once and for all. Luckily, there are several ways you can do this at home.

  • Perform gentle stretches before bed and as part of a daily routine.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods, especially before bed.
  • Drink chamomile or ginger tea to reduce inflammation.
  • Alternate the use of ice and heat pads on the affected area.
  • Mind your posture during the day to prevent flare-ups.

Sciatica is strange in that it often feels worse when it’s getting better. The pain moves up the leg, intensifying in the buttock and low back as it’s healing. If you experience this, rest assured that your sciatica is getting better.

However, if the pain moves down your leg, your sciatica is getting worse and you should seek professional treatment if the pain has been present for more than two weeks or if you’re experiencing severe pain.

Sleep Is Important for Healing — But It’s Not The Only Thing

One study shows that low back pain causes insomnia in 43% of cases. And insomnia can lead to a downward spiral of issues such as depression, increased pain perception, lack of energy, and myriad other issues. For this reason, it’s important to consider professional treatment for sciatica.

Chiropractic care has been shown to be safe and effective in treating sciatica. One study compared chiropractic manipulations to sham manipulations and found actual manipulations to be effective in relieving sciatica pain.

Chiropractic care for sciatica involves a variety of safe, non-invasive, drug-free treatment options:

  • Chiropractic Spinal Manipulations
  • Massage Therapy
  • TENS Therapy
  • Posture Analysis and Tips
  • Stretches and Exercises
  • Heat and Ice Therapy
  • Sleep Tips

If you’re suffering from sciatica, contact a chiropractor for sciatic nerve pain today and experience a fast road to recovery.  

Resources:
https://www.sleep.org/best-sleep-position/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073401/
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/1475-925X-10-103#Sec15
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(19)30054-9/fulltext
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387459/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16517383/

Dr. Brent Wells - Anchorage Chiropractor
About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.

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