When you consider the amount of pain that sciatica can cause, it’s no surprise that people find sleeping with sciatica a real problem. Here are my top 9 tips for how to sleep with sciatica – so you feel rested, restored and in less pain the following day.
Aims of this post:
- To talk about why sciatica at night causes such a problem
- To give you my top tips for how to sleep with sciatica pain – without being woken every 5 minutes
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Sleeping with Sciatica
Sciatica can disrupt our daily schedules completely, giving us pain in the back and leg due to a compression on a nerve root as it leaves the spine.
Sciatica can interrupt one of the most important processes that we go through each night – sleep.
While it is difficult to relieve pain caused by sciatica at night completely, there are several methods that you can employ to give yourself the best chance to get rid of any disruption when sleeping with sciatica.
Why is sleep so important?
When we have trouble sleeping with sciatica, this lack of sleep hinders the natural process of recovery in our bodies, which in turn slows down our recovery from sciatica.
This is why we need to make sure that everything in your sleeping environment is absolutely geared towards sleeping with sciatica for 7-8 hours each night.
Sleep is so important in the healing process that I couldn’t leave this advice out for any client.
Sleep is when healing occurs – certain hormones are released during sleep that regulate just about everything in the body. This is we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can get plenty of rest when we are sleeping with sciatica.
So why does sciatica disrupt sleep?
One of the reasons for this is that inflammatory processes tend to be worse at night. If you are suffering from sciatica, it is likely that the affected nerve root in your spine is inflamed.
You can read in more detail about why inflammation is the enemy in sciatica HERE.
Another reason that sleeping with sciatica can be so painful is often due to the position you are lying in. Sometimes, these positions can place a stretch on the affected nerve. Irritated nerves hate to be stretched and they inform us of that fact by giving us more pain!
Read the following tips for how to sleep with sciatica, without being woken up repeatedly every night.
Best Way to Sleep with Sciatica – Top Tips to Improve Sciatica at Night
Tip #1 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Take the Stretch off the Sciatic Nerve
Sciatica at night can make finding a position of comfort extremely difficult. When people ask me about the best way to sleep with sciatica, I ask if they usually lay flat on their backs.
When we sleep laid out flat, this position can lead to a stretching tension on the sciatic nerve.
You should know one thing when it comes to sciatica: Nerves hate to be stretched!
We can take this harmful, painful stretch off the sciatic nerve when sleeping with sciatica through one simple change.
For sciatica nerve pain that shoots down the back of your leg, try placing a pillow:
- Under your knee to allow a slight bend.
- Between your legs – sometimes, my clients find that a normal pillow between the legs is not sufficient, as it isn’t quite firm enough. To remedy this problem and help you find how to sleep with sciatica, you could try a specially made leg pillow, that separates your knees as you sleep.
- This one here is great value and the exact one I’ve recommended to several clients who needed to know how to sleep with sciatica:
- On top of your usual pillow set up. If your sciatica is WORSE when you lean back or when you stand for a long time, sometimes a slightly “flexed spine” position can alleviate the pressure that bony spurs, disc degeneration and thickened joints exert on the sciatic nerve.
Pillow placement is very individual when trying to work out how to sleep with sciatica pain, so a degree of trial and error is needed. Try one of the above techniques tonight and see how you get on with your sciatica at night.
A great video showing you how to position yourself for minimal pain from sciatica at night is shown below:
Tip #2 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Switch off all electronics at least 1 hour before bedtime
Electronic devices, such as iPhones and tablets, emit a type of light called ‘blue light’ which affects a part of the brain that keeps you more awake.
If we use these devices just before we go to bed, our brain remains ‘confused’ and doesn’t know whether to keep us up or let us sleep. This can further affect sciatica at night – if you take a long time to get comfortable or drift off, that initially mild sciatica pain might turn into a seriously painful episode.
We can prevent this effect by switching off at least an hour before we need to sleep.
A great tip to reduce the level of blue light emissions before bed is to switch your iPhone onto “Night Shift” mode by sliding up the menu bar on the bottom and selecting that option. You will notice your phone back light turns more yellow. This will help sleeping with sciatica become easier if you have to use your iPhone before bed.
Tip #3 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Take a hot bath or shower before bed
By heating the affected area, the muscles in the back and legs can relax which will ease any residual muscle spasm from a hard day’s work. This will also help you drift off more easily and is one of the best ways to encourage sleep with sciatica.
The heating effect on your skin can give the sensation that the trapped nerve is gliding better in the tight spaces within the lower back and relieve some of the associated pain from this condition.
Another alternative is to use a wheat pillow for heating either the back or affected leg just before bed.
This will help to relax any tense muscles in the same way that a massage does. A good example of a wheat cushion that will work well for this purpose is this one:
These cushions are great as you can just put them in the microwave for a few minutes and they stay hot for a long time. This one also has the addition of lavender which is supposed to assist with soothing anxiety and tension, and may even improve sleep.
Tip #4 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Use a magnesium rub for better sleep
Topical magnesium creams and lotions work great for releasing hormones associated with sleep. You can rub a small amount around your neck about half an hour before bed to improve sleep with sciatica.
This magnesium rub is the best one I have found for use with my clients. Many of them report a deeper sleep (although you might get some vivid dreams too!):
Magnesium rubs are believed to possibly be better than magnesium supplements in pill form, due to the proximity that you can place the supplement to the carotid artery in the neck. Experts believe that this can improve the uptake of magnesium and maximise benefits, making this supplement a winner when looking for the best way to sleep with sciatica.
If you are interested in other supplements to help sleeping with sciatica, see this report here on one of the top supplements for sciatica.
Tip #5 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Substitute white meat for red meat in the evenings
Food is more than just food; it can calm you down or make you feel more awake and ready for your day.
Eating white meat has a calming effect on little receptors in your brain called “neurotransmitters”, which control energy and alertness. Red meat is great in the mornings to get the neurotransmitters firing but we don’t really want this at night, especially when sleeping with sciatica.
If you eat a lot of red meat, try eating this meal at lunch time and opt for chicken or fish in the evening instead. Making this simple swap can have a great effect on sleep.
Hint: Combining white meat with a carbohydrate side can further improve sleep when sleeping with sciatica. The outdated advice to avoid carbs in the evening has been dismissed in the modern day as experts have shown that eating carbs late can actually help sleep.
Tip #6 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Put down the nightcap 2 hours before bed
Drinking alcohol just before sleep has been shown to have a detrimental effect on sleep quality.
I know the common theory is that a whiskey before bed might help to knock you out, but the actual sleep you’ll be getting will be of poorer quality. Put a cork in the bottle 2 hours before bed to feel the difference when sleeping with sciatica.
Tip #7 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Having sex stimulates sleep-boosting hormones!
Probably the best news in this article is that having sex has been proven to release feel-good hormones in the body that encourage deep sleep. A great excuse to not let this type of extra-curricular activity go missing from your schedule, even when you tend to suffer from sciatica at night!
Tip #8 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Try a sleep aid supplement
When sleeping with sciatica, both getting to sleep and staying that way can be a significant problem. Sleep aids contain ingredients that are usually herbal based that encourage a deeper and sustained sleep. They don’t work for everyone and the evidence isn’t exactly overwhelming for their use, but I know people who swear by them.
The following sleep aids are some of the best I have either personally used or recommended to clients.
Supplements to Improve Sleeping with Sciatica
The first is this 5-HTP supplement by Nu U. 5-HTP is a fantastic supplement that helps sciatica at night by improving the serotonin production of the human brain, allowing a deeper and more restorative sleep. You’ll likely feel quite tired soon after taking one so be sure to only consume just before bed:
I have also been advocating this NeuroRest supplement below for years. It has a superb combination of all-natural ingredients to help encourage sleep – both dropping off quicker and staying asleep longer. Although a little more expensive than other sleep aids, its popularity is well justified in my opinion:
Tip #9 for how to sleep with sciatica pain
Take a nap to make up for lost sleep
The other thing to remember is that taking naps during the day if possible can be a powerful solution to losing sleep at night. Having a 20 minute power nap can make up for hours of sleep lost because of sciatica at night.
The evidence for napping has grown and grown over the last 10 years – the researchers have found that 20 minutes is the optimal length of time to spend napping, and that drinking a coffee just before you lay down for your nap will help you feel energized when you wake up (caffeine takes 25 minutes to enter the blood stream).
So there are my top tips for finding the best way to sleep with sciatica.
Don’t forget to go to bed slightly earlier if possible, too. If you are going to wake up in the night and lose precious minutes of sleep, you need to make those minutes up elsewhere if possible. Getting under the covers half an hour earlier can make a world of difference when sleeping with sciatica.
I hope you have gained something useful from these tips! If you have learned something else about how to sleep with sciatica, please drop a comment below and help others too.
If you know of anyone else that you feel may benefit from this information then please share this article with them to help with sleeping with sciatica, too!
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