While it may be quite preferable to gather under a pile of warm blankets and hibernate during the winter months, getting to sleep is often still a problem for notoriously-bad sleepers like myself and for patients dealing with persistent back pain and neck pain.
Consider these points:
- The relationship among pain and sleep has been confirmed in various studies detailing how chronic pain can make it difficult to sleep and how sleeping problems can exacerbate one’s symptoms.
- A past Spine-health poll of nearly 1600 people found that 63.7 percent of people get less than or equal to 6 hours of sleep while only 29.9 percent of responders get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep.
With this in mind, here are some tricks that I have found successful in getting to sleep on a more regular schedule. While I’m no chronic pain sufferer, some of these points still apply.
Hit the Hay When Sleepy but Get Up If You Can’t Knock Out
One of my biggest problems in the past has been forcing myself to lay down when I’m not tired, and then staying in bed for hours after failing to fall asleep. What usually happens is that I’ll start thinking too much about things going on in my life or what’s in store for the next day, and become worked up.
As a general rule, get out of bed after 20-30 minutes of failing to fall asleep. Once you get out of bed, engage in an activity that usually makes you tired but does not stimulate your mind too much (such as reading something dense), and do so with the lights dimmed as low as possible. Avoid the bright lights of television or your laptop computer.
In terms of when to go to bed, a big key is getting on a regular schedule that your body is accustomed to, something that has helped me become better at falling asleep around the same time as opposed to the 3-4 hour swings I’ve experienced in the past.
Crack a Window and Infuse Some Cold Air
If you’re like me, the only thing you enjoy about the winter besides the holidays is the cold weather, that is for sleeping and not anything else in the Midwest.
Simply cracking the window the tiniest bit is a great way to make the room temperature colder and to have deeper and more restorative sleeps. Of course, the one bad thing about this tip is that it does not always apply when the weather gets really cold, but it may still be useful for those “fashionably-late” seasons that have been prevalent the last couple of years.
Choose Herbal Tea or a Warm Glass of Milk instead of Caffeine
How some people drink caffeine all day and still get decent sleep is beyond me.
Make a conscious decision to avoid coffee after dinner and expand this to exclude/limit pop and even other stimulants like alcohol and nicotine.
Consider a warm glass of water or milk, which is my preferred choice prior to bed (after briefly putting it in the microwave for 5-10 seconds). If you don’t like milk, be on the lookout for herbal tea the next time you go grocery shopping. A variety of affordable, nighttime tea products exist to help people fall asleep, with sipping these herbal remedies often a great way to relax as well.
Exercise, Just Not Before Bed
Some people who have it made as good sleepers are able to exercise at the gym an hour or two before going to bed, with the exercise actually making them more tired. For me, exercising a couple of hours before bed usually delays the time I get to bed anywhere from 2-3 hours.
If you have problems sleeping after exercising, try to modify when you work out. Part of this comes back to being on a consistent daily schedule, with exercising early in the morning prior to when most people work often a good start to stimulate the body, which is usually then spent by the end of the night.
For those people who have problems getting up in the morning as a result of falling asleep way too late, try to exercise when you get home from work (around 6-7 p.m.). As it can take anywhere from 4-6 hours for the body to calm down from vigorous activity, this will at least provide you with the necessary time gap if you fall within this crowd of evening exercisers/troubled sleepers.
While many chronic back pain and neck pain sufferers worry that exercising will only exacerbate their pain, the opposite is actually true: remaining inactive is often worse for pain. Engaging in regular exercise, stretching and strengthening programs can promote the body’s natural healing process and make you feel better both physically and mentally.
If you’re a bit of a “worry-wart” like me, it can be difficult to get to sleep with so much on the mind. “Forced worrying” is an interesting way to try to ease your concerns and go to bed with a clean slate.
A couple of hours before you go to bed, take 15 minutes or so to write down your worries on a blank sheet of paper. Once done, leave the room where you wrote your worries, which literally symbolizes that you are walking away from your worries for the night.
Remind yourself that you will have plenty of time to address these worries the following day. Now if you find yourself in bed worrying about other things, keep a notebook and pen nearby and write these down as well.
Visualize Something Peaceful and Meditate on that Tranquility
With your mind free of worry, gently close your eyes and think of something tranquil and relaxing.
What this peaceful place exactly is varies from person to person. For me, I like to think of myself out on a boat in the middle of the lake, with a fishing pole in hand and nothing but nature around me.
In a similar light, consider incorporating a sound relaxation machine or even aromatherapy. Also important with this point is your need to associate your bed as a place to rest.
In other words, your bed should not be a place to bring your computer and do work, or to lay back, play video games and become way too stimulated. Be sure to associate your bed as a place to sleep rather than a consortium for thousands of activities.
Remember the MP3s: Mattress, Pillow and Sleeping Position
Last but not least, consider how you are sleeping at night. Personally, I like to sleep on my right hip as my left hip will occasionally flare up and be a bit sensitive when putting my sleeping weight on it.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your mattress provide you with enough lumbar support? Check out these mattress guidelines.
- How does your pillow support your neck? Is it too high or too firm? Remember these rules for buying a pillow.
- What position are you most comfortable when sleeping? Are you most relaxed on your back, side or curled up? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning as a result of these positions?
If you have certain types of pain, there are a variety of sleeping positions that are best for your symptoms.
For example, patients with pain from osteoarthritis are advised to sleep in the fetal position (on their sides, with knees curled up) while patients with degenerative disc disease may prefer to sleep on their stomach and those with hip pain may achieve relief by placing a pillow between their knees (something that I didn’t know but will try tonight).
Of course, if sleeping problems and pain persist, they are best treated together. Best of luck in reaching “Golden Slumbers.”