Sleeping with Sciatica: Sleeping Positions and Tips

Your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It starts on your spinal cord, runs through your hips and buttocks, and continues down the back of each of your legs.

Sciatica is an impact on your sciatic nerve. It is most commonly caused by a herniated disc in the lower back. The characteristic symptom of sciatica is sharp pain along the nerve. The pain can vary from mild to unbearable and typically affects one side.

With sciatica, it can be difficult to sleep well. Lying in certain positions can put pressure on your irritated nerve and cause symptoms to flare up. However, some positions cause less pain.

Learn the best ways to sleep with sciatica.

Sciatica and other causes of lower back pain can have a devastating effect on the quality of your sleep. Studies have shown that up to 55 percent of people with chronic back pain struggle with insomnia.

Finding the best position for sciatica relief can be a matter of trial and error. But as a general rule, it’s a good idea to stick to positions that maintain the natural alignment of your spine.

On your side

You may find that sleeping on your side helps relieve pain by taking pressure off your irritated nerve.

How to set this up:

  1. Lie on your mattress with the injured side up.
  2. If there is a gap between your waist and the mattress, you can place a small pillow here to reduce sideways bending.

Place a pillow between your knees

Placing a pillow between your knees helps keep your pelvis and spine in a neutral position. It also prevents your legs from twisting during the night.

How to set this up:

  1. First, put your shoulder on your mattress, then lay the rest of your body on top of your mattress.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and place a thin pillow between them.
  3. You can also put a small pillow under your waist if there is a gap.

Embryonic position

The fetal position opens the space between your vertebrae and can reduce back pain caused by a herniated disc. However, some people also find it makes their pain worse.

If you have discomfort with the position of the fetus, try one of the other positions on this list.

How to set this up:

  1. Lie on your side and bring your knees to your chest so your body makes a “C”.
  2. You can also add a pillow between your knees or below your waist.

On your back with a pillow under your knees

Lying on your back helps distribute your weight evenly across your back. Placing a thick pillow under your knees can help maintain the curvature of your spine by relaxing your hip flexors.

How to set this up:

  1. Lie on your back with a pillow under your head for support.
  2. Place a pillow or two under your knees and comfortably place your heels on your mattress.

With a towel or pillow under your lower back

Placing a towel or thin pillow under your lower back can help keep your spine in a neutral position by reducing the space between your back and the mattress.

How to set this up:

  1. Lie face up with a comfortable pillow behind your head.
  2. Slide a thin pillow or towel under your lower back so that you can comfortably keep your pelvis in a neutral position.
  3. You can also combine this technique with a pillow under your knees if you find it more comfortable.

Sleep on the floor

Soft surfaces can cause your spine to bend out of alignment. You may find that sleeping on the floor will help you keep your spine in better alignment.

How to set this up:

  1. Place a thin mat like a yoga mat or camping mat on the floor that you plan to sleep on.
  2. Lie in one of the positions above or any other position that you find comfortable.

Doctors often recommend sleeping on your side during pregnancy.

Sleeping on your left side is often referred to as the ideal position because it is believed to allow optimal blood flow through your inferior vena cava. However, a 2019 study found that sleeping on your left or right side is equally safe for you and your baby.

If you have sciatica, you may find that sleeping on the uninjured side relieves your symptoms. Placing a pillow between your waist and the mattress or a pillow between your knees can also help reduce pressure on your injured nerve.

It is generally recommended not to sleep on your stomach if you have sciatica or other forms of lower back pain.

When you sleep on your stomach, your spine tilts towards the mattress. This curvature can put strain on your muscles or joints, especially if you sleep on a soft mattress.

No matter what position you sleep in, it is a good idea to avoid twisting your spine or hips as this can put pressure on your sciatic nerve.

Here are ways to relieve sciatic pain while you sleep.

  • Avoid soft mattresses. A mattress that is too soft can cause your body to sink into it and twist your spine.
  • Try a medium to firm mattress. A 2015 study review found that mattresses that were themselves rated as medium firm were best for promoting sleep quality and spinal alignment. It is best to try these mattresses for sciatica.
  • Put plywood under your mattress. If you find your mattress too soft, try placing a sheet of plywood between the mattress and the box spring. You can also try laying your mattress on the floor.
  • Consider a body pillow. A body pillow can keep you from falling sideways onto your stomach in the middle of the night.
  • Consider stretching exercises or yoga. Doing light stretching or doing yoga with your bedtime routine can help loosen up your muscles and relieve pressure on your nerves.
  • Take a warm bath. Some people with low back pain find that a warm bath relieves their pain.
  • Follow good sleep hygiene. Following good sleep habits like keeping the room at a comfortable temperature, going to bed at the same time each day, and avoiding caffeine before bed can all help improve your overall quality of sleep.

Some people with sciatica find that their symptoms get worse when they are in bed. Lying down can increase the pressure on your irritated nerve, especially if you sleep on a soft mattress that causes you to bend your spine as you sleep.

If you’ve had sciatic pain for more than a week, it’s important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. They can help you figure out what’s causing your sciatic pain and recommend the best treatment options for you.

Many people with sciatic pain find lying down painful. In general, sleeping on your side or back is better than sleeping on your stomach.

If you sleep on your side, it may be helpful to place a pillow between your knees and / or between your waist and the mattress.

If you enjoy sleeping on your back, it may be helpful to put a pillow under your lower back and / or knees to relieve pain.