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 8 ways to improve each night when sleeping with sciatica, proven to work time and time again by my clients.
Aims of this post:
- To talk about why it is so difficult to sleep with back pain and sciatica!
- To give you my top tips for getting a better night’s sleep with sciatica
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.
You can read exactly why we get pain from sciatica by going to my Ultimate Guide to Sciatica Symptoms here.
Sciatica can interrupt one of the most important processes that we go through each night – sleep.
While it is difficult to relieve pain from 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 optimised to allow you to achieve the 7-8 hours of sleep recommended 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!
My Top Tips to Improve Sleeping with Sciatica
Tip #1 – Take the Stretch off the Nerve
When we sleep laid out flat, this position can lead to a stretching tension on the sciatic nerve. Nerves hate to be stretched! We can take this harmful stretch off the nerve when sleeping with sciatica through one simple change. For 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 your sleeping with sciatica further, you could try a specially made leg pillow, that separates your knees as you sleep. This one here is great value and less expensive than other alternatives:
- On top of your usual pillow set up. If your sciatica is due to aging changes within the spine, sometimes a slightly “flexed spine” position can alleviate the pressure that bony spurs, disc degeneration and thickened joints exert on the offending nerve root.
Pillow placement is very individual, so a degree of trial and error is needed. Try one of the above techniques tonight and see how you get on.
A great video showing you how to position yourself for minimal pain at night is shown below:
Tip #2 – 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 limit sleep when sleeping with sciatica.
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 – 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.
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, allowing an improvement when sleeping with sciatica.
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. A good choice for anyone struggling with sleeping with sciatica.
Tip #4 – 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 quality. This magnesium rub is the best one I have found online:
Australian Karma Rub Liquid Magnesium (100ml)
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 when sleeping with sciatica.
If you are interested in other supplements to help with sciatica, like sleep aids and anti-inflammatories, see this report here on the top supplements for sciatica.
Tip #5 – 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.
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Tip #6 – 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 – Having sex stimulates sleep-boosting hormones!
Probably the best news in this paper 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!
Hint: this also counts towards your daily physical activity quota!
Tip #8 – 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.
So there are my top tips for sleeping with sciatica and how to maximise the hours you spend in bed.
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.
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 elsewhere.
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 energised when you wake up (caffeine takes 25 minutes to enter the blood stream).
I hope you have gained something useful from these tips! If you have, I would love to read about it in the comments section below.
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!
The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please see the footer of each page for our full injury advice notice.