Are you one of the many individuals struggling with the debilitating effects of sciatica? If so, you know all too well how this excruciating condition can disrupt your life, particularly when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep is essential for healing and rejuvenation, and managing sciatica during the night can significantly improve your overall well-being. Continue reading to unlock the key to more restful nights and improved quality of life.
A good night’s sleep is essential to staying healthy and feeling good. It is also a key component of effective sciatica treatment. However, when you’re in pain, finding a comfortable sleeping position that allows for a restful night sleep can be easier said than done.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. If this nerve is compressed, irritated or injured for any reason, you may experience pain. We refer to this pain as sciatica.
Sciatica isn’t the same as lower back pain. Lower back pain is limited to pain in an area of your back. But if you have have sciatic nerve pain, you might notice:
- Sharp, burning or shooting pain that travels from the lower back to the foot.
- Muscle weakness in one or both legs or feet.
- Numbness in one or both legs.
- A pins-and-needles sensation in the leg, foot or toes.
What causes sciatica?
While it’s possible to suffer from back pain and sciatic nerve pain at any age, it can be more common in older adults. Age-related changes in the body, particularly the spine, are common causes of sciatica. As we age, the cartilage between bones in the spine can degrade and disappear. This can make it more likely for nerves to be pinched and sciatica symptoms to be felt.
Lifestyle factors can contribute to sciatica. Prolonged sitting, carrying heavy weights and other manual labour and being overweight can put pressure on the body, which increase the chances of sciatica as we get older.
Regardless of age, the main causes of sciatica are:
- Degenerative disc disease: Spinal discs are approximately 80% water but slowly dry out over the years and as a result do not absorb shocks as well as they did. Tears in the disc cause the inside to stick out and press against the sciatic nerve. This can be caused by natural changes in your spine as you age but can also be caused by sports and other injuries. Most people over 60 have some form of disc degeneration but not all will experience back pain.
- Accidents and injuries: fractures, sprains and breaks put extra pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Slipped disc: sometimes also known as a ruptured, bulging or herniated disc. This where the soft cushion of tissue between the bone presses against the sciatic nerve.
- Spinal Stenosis: Not everyone who has Spinal Stenosis will suffer from sciatica, but it is one of the symptoms. Spinal Stenosis is where the spinal column narrows and the vertebrae compress the spinal nerves.
- Piriformis Syndrome: this is where the piriformis muscle in the bottom irritate or compress the sciatica nerve. It can be causes by muscle spasms, typically from long periods of sitting, overuse during physical activity (especially if twisting or turning a lot) and injury.
- Spondylolisthesis: this is most common in the lower back if a vertebrae slips forward. When this compresses the spinal nerve then you will feel sciatic pain.
Best sleeping positions for sciatica
- On your back
Place a pillow beneath you knees to help them bend and keep your back supported naturally.
- On your side
Place a pillow between your knees to help keep your spine aligned with your neck, rather than curving into the mattress.
- On your back
- In the fetal position
If you normally sleep on your stomach and experience back pain, the fetal position may relieve pressure on your lower back.
- Elevated reclined
If you have an adjustable bed then a reclined position can help by reducing pressure on the nerves.
Worst sleeping positions for sciatica
- Sleeping on your stomach
Many people with sciatica find sleeping on their stomach is uncomfortable and puts pressure on joints and muscles.
- On your back without support
Lying flat on your back can increase back pain if you do not have anything to support your knees. If your mattress does not provide enough support then this can worsen sciatica pain.
- In a twisted position
You should try to aim for a position that keeps your spine in a neutral position. A twisted position can put additional pressure on your sciatica nerve.