How many sheep for a good night’s sleep?

Do you have back or neck pain when you sleep?  Maybe you wake up still feeling tired and sluggish.  Or perhaps you have difficulties falling asleep.  You’re not alone.  These are common problems that many people suffer with.  And it’s more than just annoying – it can significantly affect your health.  Good, regular sleep is vitally important for cell and tissue repair, improving your memory, regulating a normal heart rate and blood pressure, and boosting the immune system. As we often have patients asking about various sleep recommendations for back and neck pain and we thought that we would present an easy to read (and share) list on simple steps to take to improve your sleep.

Recommendations for sleeping with pain:

Back pain – Low back pain may be decreased by placing a pillow under the knees if lying on your back or, if you sleep on your side, placing a pillow between your knees for added support.  This helps to align the spine and reduce torsion.

Neck pain – Neck pain may be decreased with sleeping on your side or back, and not on your stomach.  A good pillow is important with neck pain – avoid pillows that are so thick or thin that they angle your head and neck away from your body.  Again, alignment is key.

Other aches – Shoulder conditions such as bursitis or tenditis/tendonosis can also be aggravated with sleeping positions.  If sleeping on the side, sleeping on the non-injured arm is often recommended, and a small pillow or towel can be tucked under the elbow on the affected side for added support.

Dangers of the heating pad – A quick safety tip is also appropriate here.  Avoid sleeping with a heating pad as they can be deceptively hot.  So much so that I’ve seen people end up with blisters from the continual low-grade heat after having fallen asleep with one.  It can be like a sun burn in the way that it sneaks up on you.  Best practice is to just not use a heating pad while sleeping.

Recommendations for falling asleep:

Keep regular hours – Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, including weekends.  This helps to regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle.  If you need to take a midday nap it is best to limit it to 30 minutes.  Also try not to nap too close to your normal bedtime as you may find yourself counting more than your fair share of sheep later on.

Careful with caffeine – Limit intake of coffees, colas, and teas in the later part of the day as the caffeine is a stimulant to your body. Everyone is affected differently, but for some people having caffeine after 12pm can cause sleepless nights. For most people it is best to avoid caffeine after dinner time.  If you feel the need for something warm to drink try decaffeinated or herbal teas.

Alcohol too – Although alcoholic beverages close to bedtime may make you feel sleepy, they can disrupt your sleep pattern and cause a restless night.

Feeding the furnace – It is best to not eat a large, heavy meal just before bed.  A late dinner may interfere with sleep as your body’s metabolism kicks in to digest the food you’ve eaten. Try to eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime.

Exercise time – A regular exercise program can also help you sleep more soundly at night.  However, avoid exercising close to your bedtime – usually at least 2 hours prior is recommended as any later may interfere with your sleep (again, increased metabolism).

Slowing down – If you have a difficult time falling asleep, try incorporating bedtime rituals such as light reading, listening to soft music or sipping a cup of herbal tea. These cues will help let your body know that it’s time to prepare for sleep.

Happy bedtime stories – Many people like to watch the news before bed, however, the news is often focused on the negative and can trigger the release of cortisol (a stress hormone) making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Recommendations for staying asleep:

In-line sleeping – In general, it is best to sleep on your back or side, and not on your stomach.  Lying on your back or side allows your head, neck and spine to relax into their natural alignment reducing stresses which may otherwise cause discomfort throughout the night.

Mattress madness – A mattress should be flexible enough to adapt to your body’s shape, while firm enough to provide support.  Studies regarding how firm the mattress should be have been inconclusive.  Mattresses should be replaced every 8-10 years to ensure proper support and comfort.

Pillow talk – Choosing a pillow often seems harder than choosing a mattress – be selective. When lying on your side, your head, neck and shoulders should remain level with your mid and lower spine. When lying on your back, your head and neck should remain level with your upper back and spine.  For most people, it is best to avoid very thick pillows or too many pillows that can cause your neck to be in a state of flexion (cranked forward).  Ideally your neck should be in a neutral position – imagine how your upper torso looks when you are standing with good posture and try to replicate this when laying on your side or back.

We spend approximately one-third of our of life sleeping; it is important that we get the most out of it and wake up feeling refreshed for a new day.  The above tips are a good start for getting the sleep you need.  Do you have anything that you would ad to the list?  What has worked well for you?  Please let us know below.

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