What Are the Best Sleeping Positions for Sciatica?

Medically Reviewed By Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP

Sciatica is pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. It can feel like electricity shooting through these areas. Sciatica can make it difficult to get quality sleep. However, some sleeping positions and using a pillow as support can help. Sciatica is a symptom that happens when something compresses the sciatic nerve, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The sciatic nerve is in the lower back, extending through the middle of the buttocks and down through the back of the leg.

Sciatica can worsen when you lie down because the position can put more pressure on the nerve. This causes an increased sensation of symptoms. 

This article explores how to sleep with sciatica if you have discomfort while lying down. It also discusses sleeping positions to avoid, sciatica when pregnant, and when to contact a doctor. 

What sleeping positions can help with sciatica?

Young woman stretching in bed
Jimena Roquero/Stocksy United

An article in the journal BMJ Open Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source reports that participants experienced fewer back pain symptoms when sleeping on their side. This compares to sleeping prone or three-quarter side lying.

If you have sciatic pain, the best sleeping position is likely on your nonaffected side and using pillows for support.

You could use pillows for support while you sleep by: 

  • placing a pillow between your knees and legs
  • using a body pillow alongside your front or back
  • putting a pillow behind your lower back for support
  • resting on a pillow on your side

The key is to use pillows strategically to take as much pressure off of your spine as possible to reduce nerve compression and decrease pain. 

Learn about sleeping positions to help with lower back pain.

What sleeping positions should I avoid with sciatica?

It is best to avoid sleeping positions that can aggravate symptoms related to the back. For some people Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , this can mean that it is better to avoid sleeping directly on their back (supine) or their stomach (prone).

If you are comfortable sleeping on your affected side or your stomach, it is usually fine to continue doing so.

Your doctor can advise on sleeping positions to avoid if you have concerns about exacerbating your symptoms.

How do I relieve sciatica pain when pregnant?

For pregnant people, sciatica may not fully resolve until after pregnancy. The pressure or shift in the center of gravity during pregnancy can cause nerve compression associated with sciatica. 

Although sciatic pain may not completely resolve until after pregnancy, some strategies may help with the pain.

To help relieve sciatic pain during pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests: 

  • sleeping with a pillow between your knees and legs
  • using a pregnancy pillow for sleep and rest
  • gently stretching, especially the glutes
  • using a heating pad on the lowest setting to prevent burns
  • applying a cold pack
  • doing physician-approved exercises
  • swimming
  • using a maternity support girdle to support your belly
  • using a lumbar support pillow when sitting 

Talk with your doctor if you experience back pain before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Back pain that occurs with other symptoms, such as bleeding or fluid leaking, could indicate preterm labor. 

What does sciatic pain feel like?

Sciatic pain can affect everyone differently. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) explains that sciatic pain can feel like:

  • electricity shooting down the leg
  • pins and needles
  • tingling 
  • a burning sensation
  • sharp pains
  • cramps

It can also cause weakness and trembling in the affected leg. However, the weakness is usually temporary and will resolve once you address the root cause of sciatica. 

It may be sciatica if you experience these symptoms when lying in bed. Contact a doctor for a diagnosis and advice on alleviating symptoms at night.

Learn more about ways to relieve sciatica pain.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica is not a condition. It is a symptom of something causing the nerve to be compressed. For example, an injury to the discs in the lower lumbar spine or sacral region can lead to sciatica. 

The AAOS notes that sciatica typically has one of the following causes: 

  • arthritis, which is more common with age
  • a herniated disc, which is most common in people under 40 years of age
  • a bulging disc 
  • bone spurs 
  • a spinal cord injury

Other causes include piriformis syndrome, which causes Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source compression of the sciatic nerve around or through the piriformis muscle. A doctor can reach a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Sciatica most often occurs in people in their 40s and affects up to 40% Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of individuals over a lifetime.

Also, there may be a genetic predisposition to sciatica. It occurs more often in people with physically active jobs and who do activities that involve bending or twisting. 

Learn more about sciatica pain.

When should I see a doctor for sciatica?

Contact a doctor when you develop any new pain. Back pain has many causes, and finding the right treatment will depend on identifying the root cause.

If you have sciatica, a doctor may prescribe treatment that depends on the cause of sciatic pain. Treatment could include:

Learn more about when to see a doctor for sciatica.

Summary

Sciatica results from compression of the sciatic nerve. Causes can include a bulging disc in the spine, arthritis, and pregnancy. 

Sleeping with sciatica can be challenging because some positions put more pressure on the nerve. A doctor may recommend that you sleep with a pillow between your legs on your side or underneath your knees if you sleep on your back.

Treatment depends on finding the cause of the pain. Contact a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of sciatica.

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  1. Back pain during pregnancy. (2021). https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/back-pain-during-pregnancy
  2. Cary, D., et al. (2019). Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609073/
  3. Hicks, B. L., et al. (2022). Piriformis syndrome. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448172/
  4. How to relieve sciatica pain. (n.d.). https://www.matherhospital.org/wellness-at-mather/how-to-relieve-sciatica-pain/
  5. Low back pain fact sheet. (2022). https://www.ninds.nih.gov/low-back-pain-fact-sheet
  6. Park, D. K. (2021). Sciatica. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sciatica/
  7. Sciatica. (2020). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sciatica/

Medical Reviewer: Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 3
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