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The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in your body. It starts at your spinal cord, travels down through your hips and buttocks, and extends down the back of each leg.

Sciatica is a term to describe about inflammation of your sciatic nerve. It’s most commonly caused by a herniated disc in your lower back. The sciatic nerve is the source of the most common symptom of sciatica, which is stabbing pain in the area. It can vary from mild to intense and usually affects one side.

Resisting the urge to sleep in certain positions with sciatica can sometimes aggravate your symptoms. Lying in certain positions can increase pressure on your irritated nerve and trigger a flare-up of signs. However, some positions are more likely to cause pain. Learn how to best sleep with sciatica.

Sleeping positions for sciatica patients

Your body’s sciatic nerve pain and other sources of back pain can lead to disturbed sleep. Studies show that 55 percent of people with chronic lower back pain experience sleep disturbances.

In some instances, trial and error is the necessary means to find the ideal position to alleviate sciatica. But as a general rule, choose positions that maintain the natural alignment of your spine.

On your side

Taken pressure off the irritated nerve can help you sleep better by resting on the side.

How to set up:

  1. Your injured side should be on top of your mattress.
  2. You may want to put a pillow here if your waist is too far from your mattress to avoid side bending.

Between your knees, place a pillow

In addition to keeping your spine and pelvis in a neutral position, adding a pillow between your knees prevents your legs from rotating in your sleep. 

How to set up:

  1. Lie down on your mattress and place your shoulder on it before settling the rest of your body.
  2. Put a thin pillow between your knees and bend your knees slightly.
  3. If there is a gap under your waist, you can put a small pillow there.

Fetal position

Herniated discs may be relieved with the fetal position, which creates space between the vertebrae. Some people find the fetal position to be uncomfortable, so try a different position on this list if you experience discomfort in this position.

How to set up:

  1. Put your knees on your chest and make a “C” shape with your body.
  2. Add a pillow under your waist or between your knees as well.

Placing a pillow under your knees while lying on your back

You can spread your weight evenly across your back by lying on your back. Placing a thick pillow under your knees can help maintain your spine’s curvature by relaxing your hip flexors.

How to set up:

  1. If you need support, lie on your back with a pillow under your head.
  2. Rest your heels comfortably against the mattress with one or two pillows under your knees.

Under your lower back, place a towel or pillow

By reducing the space between your back and mattress by using a thin towel or pillow, you can keep your spine in a neutral position.

How to set up:

  1. Place a comfortable pillow behind your head while lying face-up.
  2. You can keep your pelvis in a neutral position by sliding a thin pillow or towel under your lower back.
  3. If you find it more comfortable, you can also place a pillow under your knees while using this technique.

Sleeping on the floor

If you sleep on the floor, you can better keep your spine in proper alignment since soft surfaces can cause your spine to bend out of alignment.

How to set up:

  1. The area where you will sleep should be covered with a thin mat, such as a yoga mat or camping mat.
  2. Feel free to lie down in any one of the above positions or in any other position you find comfortable.

What causes sciatic nerve pain to be worse in bed?

People who suffer from sciatica notice that their symptoms worsen when they’re lying down. Lying down can put more pressure on your irritated nerve, especially if you sleep on a soft mattress, which bends your spine while you sleep.

When to see a doctor

The best way to cope with sciatica pain is to consult your doctor, who can determine what’s causing your pain and recommend the right treatment. If sciatica pain has been bothering you for a week or more, you need to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Take away

Lying down can be painful for people with sciatica; it’s generally better to sleep on your side or your back instead of your stomach.

For side sleepers, a pillow between your knees and the mattress and/or between your waist and the mattress can be helpful.

You may find it beneficial to put a pillow under your knees and/or lower back if you like to sleep on your back.

Dr. M Shahadat Hossain
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