A man lying in bed on his side, frowning, and a glowing red light of pain shoots down the full length of the back of his leg.

Sleepless With Sciatica

Have you ever been sleepless with sciatica pain? It's pretty, well, painful,... and quite remarkably so.

Sciatica – lower back, and leg pain

Sciatica is a symptom with many possible causes – you should always check with your doctor if you have any pain, including sciatica. Issues in the low back can cause sciatica pain. However, a person doesn't have to experience low back pain to suffer from it – the pain is often found shooting down the back of the leg.1,2

This is exactly where my sciatica pain is pinging me right now.

How sciatica pain impacts my sleep

For many years it didn't bother me. Then 1 night, I had to get up to go to the bathroom, and I got back into bed and felt a quiet little 'zing' pulsing down the back of my left leg. It wasn't a terrible pain, but a sharp, achy feeling that pushed its way down my leg to the back of my knee.

Now, I know that getting upset about pain – or lack of sleep – only makes it worse. So I went into my 'mindfulness mode:' watched the pain; counted how long it was between 'zings;' and saw it change its character. The pain changed from throbbing to sometimes sharp, to sometimes barely there.

Next, I observed the sciatica pain's impact on me and my sleep: it was just enough above the threshold that it was challenging to get comfortable.

Decatastrophizing pain and sleeplessness

I observed this process, too – how I shifted my legs and how that affected the discomfort. I figured since I was engaged enough with the actual pain (never mind watching it) that I wasn't going to sleep for a while, so I didn't let that bother me.

Worrying about the sleep was not going to help me get back to sleep – but decatastrophizing not sleeping and also the pain was helpful for both. I could see that it eventually faded, and my sleepiness grew, and after about an hour, I fell back to sleep.

My 'sleepless with sciatica' pain tips

I'm still a bit in the middle of this most recent bout of sciatica – it hasn't left yet – but I have found these few tips helpful for my sleep in the meantime:

  • Sleeping on my side with a pillow between my legs helps me from rolling, which seems to irritate my symptoms.
  • I acknowledge the pain, but I practice focussing my attention on other sensations in bed – the soft topper of the mattress, the crisp sheets. Focussing only on the pain and on not sleeping is completely unhelpful for me.
  • I turn up the temperature on my heated blanket. This is soothing and calming and keeps me feeling limber and flexible.
  • I'm more careful about my caffeine intake during the day to be sure I'm setting myself up for sleep as best I can.
  • I 'compress' my sleep. What's that? I avoid laying there awake by staying up later and ensuring I am completely sleepy when I get into bed. (A CBTI technique that helps build sleep drive and sleep pressure.) This helps me fall asleep faster.
  • I recognize that my brain is good at looking for threats – it's part of what it was designed to do. Also, I know that I can create a 'threat' out of nearly anything. In order to avoid feeding my brain's interest in perceiving this pain as a threat, I will reframe it and focus on what is going right rather than on what is going wrong.
  • I can problem-solve and work on the pain and its interruption of my sleep without fearing it.

A little saying I give myself: Fear feeds....so don't feed it!

Do you ever have a sciatica problem that keeps you awake at night and feeds your own insomnia? What has helped you the most with getting better sleep when sciatica pain happens to you?

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