With pain shooting down your legs from your lower back all the way to the tips of your toes, going to sleep is close to impossible.
According to Harvard Health, “as many as 40% of people will get it during their life, and it becomes more frequent as you age.”
Though that statistic is somewhat encouraging to the majority of individuals if you are already suffering sciatic pain and trying to sleep you will be seeking relief instead of numbers.
Fortunately, there are a number of different ways to find enough relief from sciatic pain so you can get some sleep.
Sleeping with sciatica can be achieved by changing some bedtime and sleeping habits.
In addition, there are various sleep aids that can help relieve the pain and allow you to sleep comfortably.
Finally, there is a specialized piece of equipment that can help decompress your spine and bring some comfort that you can use before going to bed and might help correct the problem over the long-term.
The objective of this article is to help you achieve a restful night’s sleep in spite of sciatica.
However, before revealing the various methods, sleep aids, and equipment to help you sleep with sciatica, we will consider a few of the common questions about sciatica.
Common Questions about Sciatica
What is sciatica and what causes it?
The condition, sciatica, is named as the source of the pain, which is located in the sciatic nerve.
This pain radiates along the sciatic nerve extending from the lower back through the buttocks, down the legs, and into the feet.
The source of the pain can be found at any of two lumbar (L4, L5) or one sacral (S1) nerve roots.
Besides causing pain and discomfort, sciatica often causes weakness in the ankles and numbness in the toes and the outside edge of the cup.
Sciatica is caused by various types of pressure being exerted on at least one of the three nerve roots located along the spine at the L4, L5, or S1 vertebrae. The pressure can be caused by any of several factors:
- Muscle injury
- Slipped Discs
- Herniated discs
- Degenerative disc diseases
- Spinal fractures
- Spinal stenosis
- In rare cases, tumors
Fortunately, most cases of sciatica can be treated through simple therapeutic treatment rather than invasive treatments.
According to Harvard Health, “In half of the people with sciatica, the pain goes away without treatment within 4 weeks; fewer than 5% to 10% of people with sciatica require back surgery.”
Why is my sciatica worse when I lie down?
Sciatica is often worse when you lie down because you compress the lumbar/sacral discs when in certain positions.
Getting relief will often require changing the position that you are laying in or making use of certain equipment and sleeping aids.
Why is sciatica pain worse at night?
There are a number of reasons why those suffering from sciatica tend to see increased pain at night. That pain increase is typically related to your daily routine.
Physical, emotional, and environmental stressors add to nerve pain, which you might have blocked out during your busy day, but catch up with you in the evening.
Lifting heavy objects or compression or pressure from sitting in the same position at a desk all day are examples of two conditions.
In addition, the mattress you are using might be less than ideal for your condition.
“Various studies have found mattresses should be replaced every 8 years and pillows should be replaced every 6 months or more,” reports American Spine Group.
All of these conditions can add up to increased pain at night.
Does sleeping on the floor help with sciatica?
For some, sleeping on the floor does help relieve sciatica symptoms, but the potential drawbacks and merits are somewhat questionable depending upon which expert you talk to.
Andrew Moeller in an article for Spine Health states that “Some people find that sleeping on the floor relieves their sciatica symptoms—though experts disagree over the potential merits and drawbacks.” It is certainly something to try, but keep three tips in mind:
- Do not lie directly on the floor, use some sort of padding underneath, like a yoga matt, doubled up beach towel, sleeping bag or a foam “egg-crate” mattress.
- Try it for a week before determining that it won’t work.
- In lieu of sleeping on the floor, you might consider removing the box spring from under your bed and placing the mattress directly on the floor.
Tips for Sleeping with Sciatica
How do I get sciatic nerve pain relief at night?
Sciatica can make it difficult to sleep at night. Consequently, the loss of sleep and stress tends to worsen the condition, so getting to sleep becomes a major help when it comes to getting relief.
Though that sounds rather circular, sciatica and sleeping is sort of a chicken/egg proposition.
If you want to avoid drugging yourself and that strange feeling that results when you get up the following morning, here are some tips to make use of so you can get to sleep:
A new bedtime routine that helps you to relax is one of the most efficient ways to get to sleep regardless of whether or not you have sciatica.
However, if you have sciatica, a specific routine becomes essential. Here are three basic routines you can add into your bedtime routine:
- Drink a cup of herbal tea 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime. Liz Lilith, in Caloriebee, suggests 10 herbal teas that are well suited to help you relax.
- Soak in a warm bath for 15 to 20 minutes before bedtime. Adding a few drops of lavender, frankincense, or cedarwood essential oil to your bath can help with relaxation as well.
- Stretch thoroughly before going to bed. Here are six basic stretches provided by writers David Heitz and Erica Cirino of Healthline, which will help take off some of the pressure and compression to help you get to sleep.
An additional bedtime routine that you might take into consideration is related to stretching but makes use of an inversion table to relieve compression. A discussion of inversion tables is toward the end of this article.
Analgesic Rubs and Patches
Some of the best relief you can get to put you to sleep can come from analgesic rubs or patches.
Applying them following your bedtime routine can help you get to relax long enough to get to sleep.
Patches work great, but if you can get someone to massage an analgesic rub into your lower back, you will get more relief.
Once you have applied the analgesic, place a hand towel or washcloth over the area to keep from getting the analgesic on your bed, but also because it will help the analgesic get hotter and absorb better.
Sleep on a Firm Surface
Soft mattresses tend to allow your spine to bow in the wrong direction, worsening sciatica by causing additional compression.
A firmer mattress can help keep your spine in better alignment while you sleep.
Support mattresses with memory foam or gel memory foam can help a great deal in this area.
A new mattress or a memory foam gel mattress might be the next step in getting relief at night.
What are the best sleeping positions for sciatica?
The position you sleep in can have a major impact on relieving sciatica so that you can get some sleep.
Dr. Christopher Perkins, at Premier Family Wellness and Spinal Care, states that “One of the most difficult things to do with sciatica or any low back pain is to find a comfortable sleeping position.”
There are essentially three different sleeping positions, and each of them tends to be habitual in nature. Each of them has its benefits and drawbacks and correcting them can bring relief.
Sleeping on Your Side
The Side-Sleeper position is a good choice as long as you make a couple of adjustments to your positioning.
One problem most often related to this position has to do with the top leg falling over the bottom leg, which twists the spine and creates compression on the sciatic nerve.
Another problem is that some people are uncomfortable when their knees are pressed together.
The solution to both of these issues is to place one or two pillows between your legs or purchase a pillow specifically designed for this purpose.
Sleeping on Your Back
Sleeping on your back can be good or bad depending on your positioning. If you simply lie down with your legs out straight, your spine will sag down toward the mattress and the compression will send you through the ceiling with pain.
However, keeping your knees bent by stacking several pillows or a wedge pillow under your knees will lift your pelvis and allow your spine to flatten out on the mattress.
As an alternative, you might also get some relief in this position by rolling one or several towels together to create a roll to place under the small of your back.
Sleeping on Your Stomach
First of all, if you do this, STOP! This is the absolute worse way that you can sleep if you have sciatica.
This position places your spine in an unnatural position and causes more compression than any other position.
If you absolutely have to sleep on your stomach, you will need to place a pillow or several pillows very low on your stomach to help lift our pelvis and place your spine in a more neutral position.
How can I sleep with sciatica pain during pregnancy?
Because you cannot use heavy-duty pain relievers during pregnancy, sleeping with sciatica when you are pregnant presents a whole new set of challenges.
First, Pay very close attention to your posture throughout the day as this can help reduce the pain and stress you put on your spine. Utilize the bedtime routines already discussed to help bring relaxation.
However, be careful when you are stretching, especially in the latter part of the second trimester and third trimester.
Analgesic rubs or warm compresses can also bring some relief to help you get to sleep.
Finally, sleep on a firm, supportive surface, positioned on your side with pillows between your legs to keep your spine in alignment.
How does an inversion table help with sciatica?
An inversion table utilizes gravity to help decompress your spine and alleviate sciatica.
Lali Sekhon, MD, Ph.D., FACS, FAANS, in Spine Universe, advises that “although inversion boots and racks are popular, that type of inversion therapy is not for the novice.”
One advantage of an inversion table over inversion racks or gravity boots is that it is safer to use and does not require top physical condition in order to use it.
In contrast to gravity boots and inversion racks, inversion tables do not have to be fully inverted to provide their benefits and they are much easier to return to an upright position so the user isn’t left hanging.
Besides decompressing your spine, an inversion table also:
- Improves circulation, which promotes healing and reduces inflammation.
- Helps to stretch tight, tense, or sore muscles.
- Reduces or prevents muscle spasms.
Using an inversion table as part of your bedtime routine is a good way to help relax your spine and eliminate sciatica pain so you can fall asleep easier. Over the long-term, it might also correct the condition.
NOTE: you should consult with a healthcare professional before starting inversion table therapy in order to be sure that you are properly suited to it.
The following YouTube video provides a tutorial on how to use an inversion table properly.
Sleep Aids and Equipment for Sleeping with Sciatica
Best Sciatica Pillows
As mentioned, various sleeping positions assist you when sleeping with sciatica.
However, adding some extra support from various sleep aids and pillows can help support your spine and improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
Here are the best of three different types of pillows to help you sleep better with sciatica.
Everlasting Comfort 100% Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow
The Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow is designed to place between your legs if you are a side sleeper.
In addition to being made of memory foam for better support, this pillow comes with soft elastic straps to keep the pillow attached to your legs in case you roll to your other side during the night.
It has a soft and smooth feel and an ergonomically, curved design for comfort. It is affordable on any budget and comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee.
The drawbacks to this pillow are that it is pretty heavy and that it has a rather weak zipper on the cover. Check the prices of Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow on Amazon.
Hermell Zero Gravity Elevating Leg Rest Pillow
Raising your knees hand hips while you sleep on your back can be accomplished by the Hermell Zero Gravity Elevating Rest Pillow.
This pillow is designed for post-surgical elevation for circulation purposes, but it also works well for generating zero gravity spinal alignment, which neutralizes compression and pressure on the sciatic nerve roots in your lower back.
It has a wide platform to fit both legs is long enough to accommodate your lower legs and lifts your pelvis enough to keep your spine properly aligned while you sleep.
It comes with a machine washable cotton blend cover and its price fits most budgets. A drawback of this pillow is that some users complain that it is a little bit too firm.
check the prices of Hermell Zero Gravity Elevating Leg Rest Pillow on Amazon.
Cozy Hut Memory Foam Semi Roll Pillow
The Cozy Hut Memory Foam Semi Roll Pillow is the most versatile of the three. It can be used by back sleepers, side sleepers, and stomach sleepers alike.
The half-round memory foam design allows it to stay in place on the bed and not roll whenever you change positions. It can be placed between your legs longwise if you are a side sleeper.
If you are a back sleeper or stomach sleeper, this pillow works well for pelvic elevation or lower back support.
This pillow comes with a machine washable, cotton-blend outer cover, is affordable on most budgets, and comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
A couple of drawbacks to this pillow are that it is less than ideal for side sleepers because it doesn’t stay put while you are sleeping and that it provides a little bit too much elevation for smaller individuals. check the prices of Cozy Hut Memory Foam Semi Roll Pillow on Amazon.
Best Mattresses for Sciatica
A new mattress is sometimes necessary in order to get a good night’s sleep with sciatica.
A mattress that provides the right amount of support can help to keep your spine in alignment and eliminate compression and pressure while you sleep.
If you are on a budget, you can also consider beefing up the firmness and support of your mattress with a mattress topper.
Here are two mattresses to consider as well as a mattress topper.
Perfect Cloud Elegance Memory Foam Mattress by California King
Getting solid back support for sciatica can come in the form of the Perfect Cloud Elegance Memory Foam Mattress by California King.
This is a 12-inch mattress with a two-inch layer of gel-pro memory foam. It sleeps cooler than most memory foam mattresses while providing the necessary support to reduce spine compression while you sleep.
It comes with a knit cover for easy cleaning and absorbs motion if you sleep with a partner or pets. It also comes with a 10-year warranty.
A couple of drawbacks of this mattress are its price and the fact that it is a very heavy mattress if you have to move it around. check the prices of Perfect Cloud Elegance Memory Foam Mattress on Amazon.
Live and Sleep Resort Sleep Classic
The medium firm Live and Sleep Resort Sleep Classic is a more affordable memory foam option to keep in mind.
It is a ten-inch mattress with high-density support for your spine. It also has cooling gel memory foam so you don’t overheat when you’re trying to sleep.
The materials used in this mattress are hypoallergenic and antimicrobial for better overall health. There are no coils, springs or latex included.
Any budget can afford this mattress which comes with a 30-night guarantee and a 20-year warranty.
A couple of drawbacks to this mattress are that it is a little too firm until it is broken in a little bit and since it is only 10 inches thick, it might not provide enough support for someone who is heavier than 200 pounds. check the prices of Live and Sleep Resort Sleep Classic on Amazon.
Linenspa 3 Inch Gel Swirl Memory Foam Topper
If you aren’t quite ready to invest in a new mattress or want a lower-priced alternative, the Linenspa 3 Inch Gel Swirl Memory Foam Topper could be the solution to sciatica pain that you are looking for.
This is a 3-inch memory foam mattress infused with gel to keep it cool while it provides the necessary support your spine needs to keep it aligned while you sleep.
It comes in an open-cell design for improved breathability as well. This is an affordable option if you need extra support but can’t justify purchasing a new mattress.
The drawback to this topper is that it is only as good as the mattress underneath it. Check the prices of Linenspa 3 Inch Gel Swirl Memory Foam Topper on Amazon.
Best Inversion Tables for Sciatica
As was just pointed out, inversion tables can provide the necessary decompression, stretching, and relaxation for sleeping with sciatica.
Here are several inversion tables to consider if you want to find sciatica relief in this manner.
IRONMAN Gravity 4000 Highest Weight Capacity Inversion Table
The main advantage of the IRONMAN Gravity 4000 is that it is designed for heavier and taller individuals.
This table will accommodate individuals who are as tall as 6’-6” and who weigh up to 350 pounds.
It comes with a 2.5-inch vinyl covered memory foam backrest for better comfort and has longer gripping handles for better control of your inversion angle.
Another attractive feature is an ankle locking system that is ergonomically designed for better comfort.
The foldability of this unit makes it especially convenient when it comes to storage.
This is easy to use a table that is affordable and comfortable. A few drawbacks to this table include less than the desirable durability of some of the smaller parts of the table, there are some table locking issues reported, and this table is very heavy. check the prices of IRONMAN Gravity 4000 on Amazon.
Teeter EP-960 LTD Inversion Table
The precision-engineered Teeter EP-960 LTD Inversion Table is third-party certified for safety and is FDA certified as a medical device.
It comes with a flexible backboard for better comfort when not completely inverted.
Its frame is constructed of heavy-gauge steel for durability and stability, can be adjusted to fit persons up to 6’-6” tall and folds up for easy storage.
The unit includes the EZ Angle Tether Strap, allowing the user to control the inversion angle with simple arm movements.
It includes a lumbar bridge and adjustable acupressure nodes to get the most pain relief and support you need. It comes with a 5-year warranty as well.
A couple of drawbacks is that it costs more than twice as much as what other tables cost and it only accommodates persons up to 300 pounds. Check the prices of Teeter EP-960 LTD Inversion Table on Amazon.
Innova ITX9600 Heavy Duty Inversion Table
An affordable option to keep in mind comes in the form of the Innova ITX9600 Heavy Duty Inversion Table.
The padded slots for your ankles allow you to use the unit without wearing socks.
It includes a large-sized padded backrest and adjustable headrest pad. It includes 6 position inversion adjustment.
It is adjustable for individuals up to 6’-6” tall, weights of less than 300 pounds, and is foldable for easy storage.
A few drawbacks of this inversion table are its less comfortable backboard padding, some issues with height adjustment setting, and the possibility of some wobble while using it. Check the prices of Innova ITX9600 Heavy Duty Inversion Table on Amazon.
Trying to sleep whenever you are suffering from sciatica pain is next to impossible.
However, there are a number of ways that you can find a measure of relief to help you get to sleep in spite of the condition.
– You can change your bedtime habits to include relaxation aids and be stretching. Stretching might or might not include an inversion table, or might be simple exercises that you can do without any sort of special equipment.
– You can replace your mattress or add a mattress topper to your existing mattress in order to help provide greater support to your spine and avoid the pressure and compression that leads to sciatic pain while you are sleeping.
– You can change your sleeping position to alleviate compression and pressure on your spine. If you must sleep in a certain position in order to sleep, then you can make use of various types of pillows as sleep aids as well.
The tips discussed in this article have the potential to help alleviate the pain of sciatica so that you can get the rest you need.
If you are suffering from sciatica, don’t power your way through the pain of overload yourself with medications, making use of what you have learned about sciatica and the various methods of relieving the pain in order to bring the sweet relief you need most.