How To Sleep With Sciatica

By Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
September 17, 2021

For many people who experience lower back pain associated with the sciatic nerve, known as sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy, prolonged discomfort is all too common.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in your body, running through your spinal cord to the back of the legs.

When the nerve roots are compressed or irritated, most commonly by a herniated disc, the irritation can lead to intense low back pain

Sciatica pain not only affects everyday movement, but can also prevent sufferers from getting a good night’s sleep.

In this article, I’ll share recommended sleeping positions and various tips for relieving sciatic pain so you can get better rest.

Sleep Positions For Sciatica

Sciatica pain and flare-ups can make it almost impossible to find a comfortable position to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Certain sleeping positions have proven to relieve sciatic pain, though it may take some time to find the one that works best for you.

On your back with elevated knees

When you sleep on your back, also known as the supine position, your weight is evenly distributed, putting less pressure on either side of your body.

Adding a thick pillow under your knees will help maintain the curvature of your spine and relax your hip flexors. This is considered the best position for sciatica pain relief. 

To achieve this position, lie flat on your back and elevate your knees by placing several pillows beneath them.

Use as many pillows as you find comfortable. 

On your side

If you are a side sleeper, you can still find pain relief in your preferred position.

Side sleeping can remove the pressure from your muscles, disc, and sciatic nerve—if you do it the right way.

It’s important to keep the spine aligned, hips straight, and knees curled up slightly towards the chest.

To achieve the correct position, lie down with your injured side on top, and place a small pillow between your waist and the mattress. 

Fetal position

Sleeping in the fetal position can help increase space between your vertebrae.

Similar to the side position described above, lie with your injured side on top.

Place a pillow between your knees, and bring them in toward your chest.

Sleep on the floor

Some sciatica patients have reported that sleeping on the floor helps relieve their chronic pain.

This may be because soft surfaces can cause improper spinal alignment.

If you decide to try this, make sure you have the proper support for your legs, back, and neck. It is also recommended that you place a thin yoga mat or towel on the floor—then recreate any of the positions listed above.

Sleep positions to avoid

Stomach sleeping is not recommended for sciatic pain relief—in fact, this position can increase pain levels and damage the nerve.

Sleeping on your stomach can put additional stress on your muscles and joints, leading to further complications. 

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Additional Tips For Sleeping With Sciatica

Aside from the position you sleep in, there are other ways to relieve sciatic pain, ranging from your mattress choice to the things you do before bedtime. 

  • Invest in a quality mattress: A medium-firm mattress that supports your back, hips, neck, shoulders, and knees (all the pressure points in the body) will decrease pressure on the lower back and sciatic nerve. An overly soft mattress can cause your body to sink, putting your spine out of alignment.
  • Change your neck pillow: Investing in a more supportive neck pillow can help you avoid neck pain, as well as lower back pain. Try to avoid fluffy pillows with little support. 
  • Use a body pillow: A body pillow may help prevent you from flipping from your side to your stomach in the middle of the night.
  • Take a warm bath before bed: This can help soothe aches and pains by relaxing the muscles in the lower back and legs. It’s also a great way to relieve any stress from the day. 
  • Do stretching exercises before bed: Some mild exercises and stretching can help loosen muscles and provide relief. A few stretches you can do on your bed include knees to chest, pelvic tilt, knees to opposite shoulder, a figure-4 stretch, and child’s pose.
  • Take medications: If you have been prescribed medication for your sciatica pain, take it as directed. Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) may also help. 
  • Develop a nightly routine: Establishing good sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, can aid in a good night’s rest, even if you suffer from sciatica pain. Do your best to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning—yes, even on weekends. Avoid screens and stimulants like caffeine just before bed. Your goal is to create a calm, peaceful sleep environment. 

When To See A Doctor

If these recommended sleep positions and adjustments are not helping, and your pain is prolonged or worsening, you should see a doctor.

Specifically see a doctor if:

After performing an examination, discussing your medical history, and determining the original cause of your sciatica, your doctor will provide you with several treatment options. 

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP

Dr. Hemphill is an award winning primary care physician with an MD from Florida State University College of Medicine. She completed her residency at Halifax Medical Center.