The largest nerve in your body — the sciatic nerve — can cause you incredible pain when it becomes pinched or inflamed (via Healthline). This condition, which is known as sciatica, can cause sharp, burning pain along the path of the nerve. It begins at your lower spin and runs all the way down each of your legs. The pain can range from being simply uncomfortable to downright excruciating.
According to Atlanta Brain and Spine Care, sciatica can be caused by a number of different conditions. These can range from a herniated disc to a bone spur, or a tumor pressing into the nerve. Other conditions, such as spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal cord), arthritis, and obesity can also lead to sciatica.
Because the condition can affect the back and the legs, sleeping comfortably is very difficult for people living with sciatica (via Cleveland Clinic). According to a 2015 study published in The Korean Journal of Pain, more than half of people who experience lower back pain also have trouble sleeping. Depending on where the pain is located, it can be hard to find a position that offers some relief.
Finding the right position may require some work
According to the Cleveland Clinic, finding nighttime relief from sciatica pain starts with figuring out what is causing your pain and where it is located. Seeing your doctor or a physical therapist can help you identify the source of your sciatica discomfort. Once you have an idea of where the pain is coming from, you can determine the most comfortable position to relieve it.
For many people who live with sciatica, sleeping on their back seems to be a good option, as it relieves pressure on the sciatic nerve in the lower back (via Atlanta Brain and Spine Care). If you want to try this position, you should elevate the knees with one or more pillows and make sure your neck is supported by a pillow as well.
Some also report that sleeping on their side helps take away some of the discomforts of sciatica. According to Healthline, side-sleepers should lie with the affected side on top. This means that, if your sciatica affects your left side, you should sleep on your right, and vice versa. You also might want to consider placing a pillow between your waist and the mattress to keep your side from bending.
Your sleeping position is only the start
Healthline suggests that side sleepers might want to consider sleeping in a fetal position, which can open up the spaces between your vertebrae and provide some pain relief. The ideal fetal position for sleeping is to bring your knees to your chest, forming a “C” shape with your body. If you need to, you can also add a pillow between your knees or under your waist.
If you are a stomach sleeper and find yourself living with sciatica, you should definitely flip over for good (via SpineUniverse). According to the Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute, sleeping on your stomach puts stress on the spine and joints by making them curve toward the mattress.
The position of your body is only part of the battle, according to Spine-Health. You want to avoid a soft mattress and opt for a medium or firm sleeping surface. According to Healthline, softer surfaces can cause your spine to become misaligned. In some cases, you may even find yourself sleeping more comfortably on a yoga mat on the floor.
To help set yourself up for a pain-free night’s sleep, there are a few steps you can take (via K Health). These include taking a warm bath before bed, doing some mild stretching exercises, and developing good sleep hygiene. With some trial and error, you can manage your pain and get some well-deserved rest.