Hip Pain During Sleep: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Stiff, painful hips can make it harder to walk or sit comfortably. But the problem isn’t just limited to during the day. Hip discomfort often tends to flare up when we’re laying in bed, which can make it harder to get a good night’s rest.
The numbers back this up. Up to 90 percent of people with chronic joint pain—including hip issues—are plagued by sleep disturbances, say Cleveland Clinic experts. Unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation can affect daytime functioning and mood. But it could also have the potential to worsen pain, creating a sort of vicious cycle.
So what can you do if a sore hip is keeping you up at night? Turns out, plenty. Here’s a deep dive into what causes hip pain, why your hip always seems to hurt more when you’re trying to sleep, and what you can do during the day and at night to feel more comfortable.
Common Causes of Hip Pain During Sleep
Hip pain can strike for a number of different reasons. Sometimes the problem is triggered by an injury like hip bursitis (inflammation of the hip joint), a hip bone dislocation or fracture, a tear, a sprain, or tendinitis. But it can also be caused by problems like arthritis or a pinched nerve condition like sciatica (pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve).
No matter what might be behind your hip pain, many people find that the problem tends to get worse at night when they’re trying to sleep. Part of the issue has to do with the fact that the joints tend to swell at night when we’re not moving for long periods, which can leave you feeling extra sore or stiff. Sleeping in a wonky position can throw your hips out of their natural alignment and make the discomfort even worse.
How Pain Affects Sleep — And Vice Versa
It’s no secret that a good night’s rest is harder to come by when you’re uncomfortable. Pain not only makes it tough to fall asleep—it can wake you up and leave you tossing and turning for hours.
And hip pain is no exception. A 90-day study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that subjects with hip osteoarthritis are more likely to have poor sleep quality and daytime fatigue. Just how poor, exactly? Women with severe hip pain spend upwards of 90 minutes awake and uncomfortable throughout the night, according to an Arthritis Care Research study.
The problem can have a ripple effect. The less sleep you get, the more disruptive your hip pain might become. Findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience have shown that sleep deprivation can make people up to 30% more sensitive to pain. And over time, the lack of shuteye could actually alter pathways in the brain to amplify discomfort and make it worse.
With facts like that, it’s no wonder that coping with chronic pain — hip or otherwise — is linked to poorer perceived health and reduced quality of life, as well as anxiety and depression, according to CDC statistics.
Who’s at Risk for Hip Pain?
Anyone can get hit with hip pain, especially the kind caused by an injury. Still, there are some factors that might put you at higher risk for hip discomfort, particularly hip pain caused by arthritis. Being overweight or obese can put extra strain on your joints, for instance. Women and older adults also tend to be more prone to arthritis-related pain than men or younger adults, says the CDC. Smokers, too, have a higher chance of arthritis and can also make existing arthritis worse.
Is Your Sleep Position Hurting Your Hips?
Hip soreness can have a lot of different causes, and your sleep position can absolutely play a role. Poor posture could throw off your hip alignment, which can lead to nighttime pain or make pain from an underlying problem worse. Sleeping on a mattress that doesn’t offer the right type of support can also trigger pressure points and cause pain.
So how can you tell if your sleep situation is part of the problem? If you’re consistently having trouble falling or staying asleep because your hip is uncomfortable, or if you wake up with a sore or stiff hip in the morning, it’s safe to assume that your sleep has at least something to do with your discomfort.
Finding Hip Pain Relief During Sleep
Can addressing your sleep situation ease your hip discomfort—or even make it disappear completely? The only way to find out for sure is to give it a try. Here, a few simple steps that could make a big difference.
Look At Your Sleeping Position.
Side sleeping is the best way to snooze when you’re dealing with a problem hip—the pain-free side, that is. Sleeping on your good side will take the pressure off of your painful hip, especially if you invest in a comfortable mattress for side sleepers or tuck a pillow between your knees to help your hips stay properly aligned. (Side sleepers might be less likely to deal with back pain or shoulder pain, too.)
Prefer to sleep on your back? It’s probably better than sleeping on your sore side, but laying totally flat can create strain in your lower back that could potentially affect your hips. So if back sleeping tends to be the comfiest position for you, tuck a pillow under the small of your back to ease some of the pressure.
As for stomach sleeping? Experts agree that it’s generally the worst position for pain. It forces your neck and spine into an unnatural position, which could potentially make your hip issues worse—or create whole new pain problems.
Upgrade Your Mattress.
Most of us spend more time in our beds than anywhere else. So if your mattress is worn out or just doesn’t offer the right support, it could have a lot to do with your discomfort.
People with back or hip pain tend to do well with the sturdy support of medium-firm mattresses, experts say. Beds that are very soft can sink, which can mess with your alignment. And ones that are very firm (sometimes called “orthopedic” mattresses) can trigger uncomfortable pressure points that just might make your sleep worse, surveys show.
If you’re wondering whether certain mattress materials work better than others, the answer is likely yes. Memory foam mattresses are generally considered superior for conforming to your body’s natural curves, which could help promote healthier hip alignment. That doesn’t mean you can’t sleep comfortably on a firm, high-quality innerspring mattress. But you may want to consider giving yourself a little bit of extra support by adding a memory foam topper.
Upgrade Your Pillow.
Your pillow is responsible for helping your head, neck, and spine stay properly aligned while you sleep—and wonky alignment can contribute to hip pain. If your pillows are old and worn or just seem to be on the soft side, consider upgrading to something firm, sturdy, and thick. That’ll keep your head and neck elevated at the right angle and promote more comfort overall. As for materials? Latex or memory foam pillows have more structure and support compared to inexpensive polyester ones.
Other Steps for Managing Hip Pain
Addressing your sleep situation could go a long way towards making your hips more comfortable. But if that’s not enough to solve the problem altogether, you might need to take additional measures during the day. Consider trying pain management techniques like:
- Go easy on your hip. Try not to put direct pressure on the hip or bend at the hip over and over.
- Don’t sit for too long. Make low-impact exercise like walking or swimming a regular part of your day. If you tend to be sedentary at work, keep stiffness at bay by taking frequent, short walking breaks.
- Stretch. Regular stretch sessions are one of the best ways to ease tight muscles and improve your range of motion. The best stretches will depend on what part of your hip is in pain, so consider meeting with a physical therapist for guidance.
- Apply ice or heat. Try ice packs, warm compresses, or warm showers. These can be especially helpful for helping injuries heal.
- Try a pain reliever. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can ease inflammation and help you feel more comfortable.
Finally, while hip pain can often be managed with at-home measures, some symptoms warrant a call to your health care provider. Seek medical attention if your joint pain continues for more than three or four days straight or more than two to three weeks intermittently, or if the pain is so severe that you need sleep medications to get a decent night’s rest. Same goes if the pain is accompanied by weight loss, chills or a fever or night sweats, or if you have a history of cancer, Cleveland Clinic experts say.
Sore hips can stem from a range of issues, including injuries, arthritis, or nerve pain. But regardless of what caused the problem, it’s common for the discomfort to worsen at night—especially if you’re sleeping in the wrong position or on an unsupportive mattress. So start by addressing those potential nighttime pitfalls. There’s a chance that changing up your posture or your sleep surface might be all you need to snooze more soundly.