“We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever, and yet more elusive.”
-David K. Randall
We all know the difference a good night's sleep has on our mind and body; we are eager to start the day, we feel alert and awake, and things that usually stress us out seem to be less of a big deal. Even though someone who is asleep appears to be inactive, that quiet lump under the covers is surprisingly filled with trillions of cells working to restore, rejuvenate, detox, and heal the body. Sleep also aids the mind in storing and processing memories, helping us make sense of newly learned information, and helping with focus, creativity and decision making skills when awake. It’s no wonder then that humans, and every single other animal, needs restful sleep.
In his book Dreamland, David K. Randall tells us how our quantity and quality of sleep underlies all of the decisions we make throughout the day. Sleep also significantly impacts our emotional intelligence. Meaning that if we are sleep deprived we are less able to control our emotions and make reasonable decisions. Adults need anywhere from 7.5-9 hours of restful quality sleep. Randall emphasizes that if we don’t get enough sleep, our body will keep score of the debt, and feel emotionally and physically fatigued until we get proper rest we need.“Humans need roughly one hour of sleep for every two hours they are awake, and the body innately knows when this ratio becomes out of whack. Each hour of missed sleep one night will result in deeper sleep the next, until the body’s sleep debt is wiped clean.” Sleep is necessary for our well being, especially when we are suffering from chronic pain. It could be extremely exhausting and aggravating to find yourself awake at night, tossing and turning, looking at your clock, and which a sigh, hoping to fall back asleep.
Sleep is mandatory for our well being, especially when we are suffering from chronic pain -- unfortunately, pain is also one of the leading causes of insomnia. Studies have shown that two-thirds of the people who suffer from back pain have insomnia; studies have additionally shown that disrupted sleep also worsened back pain. Insomnia and pain clearly influence each other-- creating a vicious cycle where more pain leads to less sleep and less sleep leads to more pain.
Another finding from the NSF 1996 survey, showed that people who experience pain AND sleep problems scored significantly lower in general mood, physical health, ability to handle stress, ability to get up and go, and their ability to concentrate compared to people who didn’t experience pain and sleep problems. The good news is that we have some control over our sleep habits, but first we need to learn which habits promote sleep and which ones obstruct it. If you can learn to sleep better, you can reduce the impact of sleep deprivation on pain.
So pay attention!--
Here is a list of bad habits that you may need to get rid in order to get a better night's rest:
- Don’t be in front of a flat screen (smart phone, tablet, laptop or flat screen television) for 2 hours before bed! The frequency of light used in those devices (“short-wave blue light”) disrupts your body’s ability to produce a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is necessary to help us fall asleep. If you don’t feel like you can stay off your device for 2 hours before bed try just an hour. Or use a filter such as “flux” or “night shift”. Some of these are settings on your device and some of them are aps or programs you download that run in the background. The purpose is to cut out the “short-wave blue light” so that your brain can crank out the melatonin and help you go to sleep.
- Do not consume any caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. It takes your body a full 12 hours to get rid of caffeine! Caffeine is found in coffee, certain teas, soft drinks, chocolate and cocoa. Furthermore, here are some medicine that may also include caffeine;
- cold, cough and decongestants
- painkillers (like Tylenol#3 for example)
- Do not consume any tobacco products which contain nicotine. Nicotine not only stimulates the body and promotes wakefulness, but they are also bad for your health.
- Do not drink Alcohol before going to sleep because it interferes with feeling rested due to blocking your REM sleep. When you drink alcohol you will feel tired and fall asleep but the sleep that you have will not be deep enough to refresh your body and mind.
- Do not eat before going to sleep, it can cause indigestion, acid reflux and overall decrease the quality of your rest because your digestive system will be hard at work.
- Do not exercise during the 3-4 hours before going to bed. Try exercising in the morning, afternoon or during the early evening.
- The temperature of your bedroom should be on cooler side, not cold and not hot.
- Your bedroom should be quiet. If you have noisy pets or a partner who snores, try using earplugs, downloading a noise app (I like using a free app called Rain, Rain), or getting a white-noise machine to help mask other sounds.
- Your bedroom should also be dark, try covering your bedroom windows with dark curtains. You could also try wearing a sleeping mask.
- One of the most important things to consider is the comfort of your mattress. If you are experiencing pain, it is really important to buy a mattress that suits your needs.
Create soothing bedtime rituals to ease your mind and body at the end of every day. Here are some rituals and activities you can experiment with before you go to sleep:
- Try to meditate, journal, or read something that helps you unwind.
- Listen to soothing music or a podcast.
- Do not watch TV, eat, pay your bills, send emails etc. in your bed. Create an intention to use your bed as a sleep sanctuary. (Having sex in bed is also ok).
- Try to go to sleep at the same time every single night, make sure your schedule is consistently the same 7 days a week!
- Try using an essential oil diffuser, a few oils that are known to promote calming and soothing effects on the mind and body are lavender, cedar wood, chamomile and bergamot.
- Drink teas that promote sleepiness, such as chamomile, lemon balm, lavender or Sleepy-Time tea blends.
- Take a hot shower or a nice bath before going to bed. Add epsom bath salts to help relax any muscle soreness.
Whatever you decide to do for your last bedtime activity, try to keep in mind that it should promote calmness. Invest your time in figuring out what activities your body responds well too— and stick to those habits, your body will thank you!
Remember, sleep impacts pain and pain impacts sleep. By taking control of one side of the cycle you can prevent your (lack of) sleep from making your pain worse.