Resources and Advice

Helping you and your loved ones live well in later life

Falls Risk Score logo

Are you or a loved one at risk of a fall?

Every 10 seconds, a loved one in the UK has a fall. Find out your risk score in 2 minutes.

HEALTHY AGEING

5 tips for sleeping well when you have Sciatica or lower back pain

Do you find your sciatica or lower back pain is keeping you up at night? Read our top tips for sleeping comfortably through the night.

September 07, 2022

Elderly man with sciatica back pain

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

 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.

Where you feel the pain can depend on which area of the nerve is affected. It could be a constant pain or might only be noticeable when you sit or lie in certain positions.

In this article, we discuss effective tips for sleeping well when you are suffering from sciatica or lower back pain.

 

The challenges of treating sciatica pain in older adults

While it’s possible to suffer from back pain and sciatic nerve pain at any age, it can be more common in older adults because 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.

As with many types of pain, sciatica can feel worse at night, when there are fewer distractions.

We look at ways to help you find sciatic nerve pain relief at night and discuss five effective tips for sleeping well when you are suffering from sciatica or lower back pain.

 

A hot bath can ease sciatica

1. Take a hot bath before bed

Heat can help the muscles and back relax and ease any muscle spasm you may be experiencing. Adding a scoop of Epsom salts to the bath can also aid in reducing inflammation and promoting relaxation that many find offers relief from sciatic pain. In addition, a nice hot bath often leaves us feeling sleepy and can help us to drift off.

If you’re not able to take a bath, try a hot water bottle or a lavender heat pack instead. The heat from these will have the same beneficial effects as taking a bath, and lavender is known for its relaxing properties.

 

2. Elevate your knees

There is no one-size fits all sleeping position for those suffering from sciatica. However taking pressure off the small joints in the spine can help, as can reducing the stretch in the sciatic nerve. For these reasons lying on your back with your knees raised can provide relief from pain.

  • Lie flat on your back with your feet and buttocks in contact with the bed.

  • Bend your knees towards the ceiling.

  • Slide pillows under your knees until you find a position that’s comfortable.

Alternatively, those who prefer to sleep on their side can sometimes find that this takes pressure off and gives some sciatic nerve pain relief at night. Of course, you’ll need to sleep on the unaffected side and may want to use a pillow between your waist and the mattress so that your side doesn’t need to bend. A pillow between the knees can also be helpful to some and helps prevent leg rotation as you sleep.

 

3. Keep moving during the day

When you’re in pain, it can seem tempting to rest more and to avoid moving the affected areas. However, with sciatica, pain will eventually increase with prolonged inactivity and decreased motion and so it is important to stay active as much as possible.

There’s no need to exert yourself or push yourself beyond your limits, but try incorporating some of these gentle activities into your day to help minimise the sciatic nerve pain you experience at night:

  • Go for regular walks. Even a short stroll to the shop or round the block can help to ease tension in the back and legs.

  • Practice simple stretches that you can do whilst sitting in a chair.

  • Avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Get up and stretch your legs regularly or spend some time doing activities that require you to stand.

Ideas to help you exercise

When you reach the age of 60, the recommended amount of exercise is 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, per week.

Read more

 

Many people find using a fitness device to track their daily activity good motivation for staying active. A wearable device such as the Taking Care Personal Alarm Watch can count the number of steps you take - and provides a way to get help in an emergency. 

Out-and-About Personal Alarm Watch

The watch works as a personal alarm, GPS tracking device and pedometer so you can track how many steps you have taken.

Read more

 

4. Gentle stretches before bed

Doing a few simple stretches before bed can be very helpful for some people suffering from sciatica. For older adults especially, stretching should always be done slowly and carefully, without pushing your body too hard. If any of the stretches feel painful, do not continue with them . Some good stretches for sciatica include:

  • Lying on your back (can be in bed or on the floor) and move bent knees slowly towards the chest together
  • Doing the same but instead of moving the legs together, move each knee in turn very gently towards the opposite shoulder
  • Doing a pelvic tilt by lying on the floor or bed on your back with legs bent, feet flat down and toes facing forward. Gently pulling the belly button in towards the spine as you breathe out will push the pelvis upwards. This can be held for a couple of seconds before releasing.

 

5. Keep to the same night time routine every evening

While being in pain can make it more difficult to fall asleep, if your body and brain follow the same routine every evening, it helps to prepare for sleep and can mean that you drop off a little easier, even if experiencing some sciatic nerve pain.

That routine can look a bit different for everyone, but as well as the warm bath mentioned earlier, lots of people also find that going to bed at a similar time each night can help, along with getting up at the same time each day too.

Some people like to have a warm drink as they prepare for bed, or wind down with some reading as part of their bedtime routine.

 

When to see a doctor about sciatic nerve pain 

If you’ve been dealing with pain from sciatica for more than a week, you should consider a visit to the doctor for a proper diagnosis. They can help you determine what could be causing your pain and recommend the best treatment options.

TENS machines for Sciatica pain relief

TENS machine for Sciatica pain

TENS machines are small electrical devices with pads that stick on to your skin. They are used to treat pain stemming from a variety of causes, such as period pains, arthritis and Sciatica pain.

TENS machine for Sciatica pain

 

Other resources

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure


What to read next

Tips to prevent falls
December 7, 2022

Falls Risk Assessment: Tips to prevent falls in elderly

Our Falls Risk Assessment Tool will help you understand if you are at risk of a fall and provide you with help and advice to keep you safer at home.

Elderly man online
December 6, 2022

Which scams are targeting the elderly?

We look at common and latest scams targeting the elderly and tips to avoid them.

Elderly man sitting with pain in the knee
November 28, 2022

Tips for managing elderly arthritis this winter

As the temperature drops many people might find pain in their joints getting worse. Read here to find some tips for managing arthritic pain.

Elderly christmas gifts
November 16, 2022

Thoughtful Christmas gifts for elderly relatives

Finding the right Christmas gifts can sometimes be difficult. We look at thoughtful options for a variety of budgets.