When inputs and outputs feed into each other, a negative feedback loop happens. This creates a compounding effect of damage.
A nefarious feedback loop occurs in our bodies when pain interferes with sleep. Sleep is one of our body’s most sophisticated and important recovery processes.Between its importance for physical recovery and mental processing, you would literally die in a matter of weeks if you stopped sleeping.
One type of pain that is particularly adept at causing this loop is lower back and/or sciatica pain.
If your pain is impairing your sleep, then your poor sleep will impair your recovery. Thereby impairing the healing of your pain, which again impairs your sleep. See what I’m getting at?
Sciatica pain is caused by impingement, inflammation, or injury to the sciatic nerve. It usually occurs at the point of the nerve tunnel where it passes through the hip. This nerve runs from your back to your foot. It’s appropriately infamous for its ability to interfere with our quality of life.
Even if the sciatic nerve isn’t the cause, low back pain in general can be difficult to escape at night when you need the rest.
Both for the healing process and your quality of life, it’s imperative you have tools to reduce and, ideally, eliminate any pain that interferes with your sleep.
Here’s how to sleep with sciatica and lower back pain
Tissue Mobilizations Before Bed
Tissue mobilization techniques downregulate the nervous system and relieve pain. They’ve been shown to upregulate your rest-and-digest (parasympathetic nervous) system. They can dramatically improve your sleep quality aid and shorten the time to fall asleep at night. Additionally, these techniques can help desensitize pain areas when sleeping.
Our bodies are complex, inter-connected systems of tissues. Where the rats chew isn’t always where they get in. A general rule of thumb is to work upstream and downstream of the problem area.
With low back pain, you want to address the tissues in the:
- lower back itself
- above and below the pelvic seam
- the glutes and hamstrings
- the pelvic floor muscles of your abdominals (at least)
Try to do at least one of the following for two minutes per side, daily. If you can, try to do 10 minutes of total mobilization (2 to 3 techniques) and once or twice per week. Use the longer 30 minute routine at the end of this section for deeper TLC.
1. High Glute Mobilization
The high glute mobilization works on the lower part of the seam between your lumbar spine and your lower body. Tissues both above and below this seam can easily become stiff and ropy. They can restrict the blood flow and movement that can affect your lumbar and your sciatic nerve tunnel.
2. QL Mobilization
As I often joke, your QL is not a bone!If you were to put your hand around the Quadratus Lumborum muscles of most folks, they’d feel more like an extra spinal column than a muscle.
In the case of lower back pain, a stiff Quadratus Lumborum can be a major component of chronic pain.
3. The Four Horsemen Routine
Some years back, I labeled four tissue systems “the four horsemen of the spine.” These are the:
- rectus femoris (one of your quadricep muscles)
- the iliopsoas
- the quadratus lumborum mentioned earlier
- the psoas.
These four muscle systems have something very important in common: they all attach to your hips. Together they connect your upper body to your lower body.
Stiffness and dysfunction in any one of these systems can contribute to pelvic tilt, sciatica issues, and lower back pain. By taking the time to work on them all together, you can open up your hip cradle and relieve the lower back from stiffness.
Do this routine at least once per week on recovery days. You don’t want to do a big workout after doing this session.
The Best Ways To Sleep With Lower Back Pain and Sciatica
Do me a favor. Lay down on the floor next to your couch or your bed, and put your feet up on it. Notice anything?
With luck, you might find your lower back doesn’t hurt in this position. This makes it the best sleeping position for lower back pain and sciatica.
The caveat? Most people can’t sleep overnight like this. That being said, it’s a great way to nap, and napping can support your overall sleep recovery.
Our friend and former Navy SEAL commander Jocko Willink uses this technique in his 8-minute power naps. Some prefer 20 minutes, and others may nap for 45 or more. A word of warning though, letting yourself nap for longer than this can leave you feeling drowsy.
Regardless, if this position allows you to get quality shut-eye sans pain, you can use it to support your body’s recovery process alongside working towards improving your overnight sleep.
I understand that some people aren’t backsleepers. If you sleep on your side, you can put the pillow between your knees to put your spine in neutral position. In this position, the sciatic nerve may be less pressured.
I don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach if you have lower back pain. This position flattens the spine’s natural curve. So to counter it, the best option is to add a pillow under your abdomen.
A quick tip: Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night for optimal recovery. In times of pain, this may mean spending another hour or more in bed. This will be easier if you’ve properly exhausted yourself during the day.
Daily Activities That Can Help Reduce Lower Back and Sciatic Nerve Pain
The lack of movement can contribute to sleep issues. So aside from learning the best positions to sleep with lower back pain and sciatica, I recommend boosting your activity levels during the day.
Walk A Minimum of 8,000 Steps Per Day
You can experience better sleep by getting enough steps in. At The Ready State, we push our members for a minimum of 8,000 daily steps.
Many of us work desk jobs, and the mere act of hunching over a desk all day can cause, contribute to, or exacerbate existing pain.
Walking is an opportunity to reset movement positions. It alsoincreases circulation and lymphatic flow.
If you’re struggling with sleeping due to lower back pain, try adding a half-mile or longer walk at the beginning and end of every day. If you can, slip in a third at lunchtime or during some kind of mid-day break.
Not convinced? I wrote an entire article on the power of walking for pain, health, wellness, and longevity. Read Why You Should Walk More here. It’s a short but sweet read. Give it a glance before writing off this technique.
Restore Healthy Hip Positions with These Spine Alignment Exercises
Many things can compromise your positioning, from acute injuries to too little movement, as well as poor posture.
The loss of good positioning can lead to pain. In the case of lower back pain (sciatica included), pelvic tilt and poor hip mechanics are a primary suspect.
The techniques below are aimed at restoring the hip joint and pelvis to optimal positions. They can relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve and the lower back in tandem.
1. Hip Capsule Mobilization
First, we have the hip capsule mobilization. This simple, equipment-free technique is a fast and effective way to get your hips back where they’re supposed to be.
It’s also a great test. If you get relief from this mob, you know where to keep up the good work.
2. Lower Body Spin-up
Next, we have the lower body spin-up. This routine is a great way to open your hips and improve mobility. I have often recommended this routine as a morning wake-up routine to be performed daily.
3. Athlete’s Triangle Pose
Finally we have the athlete’s triangle pose. This movement requires a resistance band and a pull-up bar to serve as an anchor. If you don’t have access, you can also use the hook-up device to turn any doorway into an anchor.
It’s incredibly effective for tying together the hip and low back and identifying your restrictions. By not only addressing the hip but also involving your spinal mechanics, we can test and address the whole system at once.
Perform the lower body spin-up, or at least one of the other two mobilizations at least once a day, for at least two minutes per side. It may work best to do these mobilizations on waking in the morning as a sort of movement primer. After, you can perform the tissue mobilization techniques before bed to reduce pain.
Feel free to switch your routine up. As long as you do them consistently, you’ll see improvements.
Back pain can be ruinous for your sleep, and ruined sleep can be ruinous for back pain. That doesn’t mean you’ve gone and written yourself a death sentence, but it is important you tackle the issue forthrightly so your body can begin to recover. Thankfully, there are non-invasive options you can start today.
find the best sleep positions for sciatica to reduce pressure on the spine. But you have to put in the work.
First and foremost, you want to get out of pain. Desensitize the tissues so you can sleep more soundly using tissue mobilization techniques
Next, we want to make sure you’re moving enough. It promotes healthier movement patterns and tires you up for the night. Walk at least 8,000 steps a day, or something akin to a half-mile walk 2 to 3 times a day.
With nighttime sleep disturbed, catching up with naps can be a huge aid. Laying on the floor with your feet up on your bed or couch can unload the lower back and allow for restful naps even while you’re in pain sleeping at night.
Finally, realizing that pain is often an expression of compromised movement patterns and positions is essential. Restoring your hips and pelvis to their optimal positions of movement can relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve and the lumbar spine. It’s the key toesolving pain in the long run. Perform the mobilizations above to restore positions daily.
In conclusion, pain and poor sleep can become a negative feedback loop for the ages, but this doesn’t have to be permanent nor pernicious. You can break the loop, and restore your restful nights and pain-free days with simple techniques that let you recover the birthright that is your Ready State.