If you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep with an aching back, the last thing you need is stress keeping you awake. But if you have chronic lower back pain, chances are you’re among the many people who report high levels of stress.1-2

For people with chronic back pain, struggling to fall asleep can be a source of stress that results in poor sleep quality and increased back pain. Read: Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Breaking the Cycle

Here are 6 tips for reducing stress and relaxing before bedtime:

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1. Go for a walk in the early evening

Taking a stroll around the neighborhood or on a treadmill can be simple and effective ways to burn stress. Physical movement helps release endorphins, loosen muscles, and relax your mind. You don’t want your blood pumping fast when you’re trying to sleep, so budget enough time between your walk and your bedtime for your heart rate to come down. Save vigorous exercise for the morning or afternoon.

2. Write your worries in a journal

For some people, the idea of writing in a journal can feel like one more stressful task, but it doesn’t have to be. Take 10 minutes to jot down a list of all the things that worry you, including responsibilities that you need to complete the next day. Be specific. This exercise allows you to reflect and let go of unproductive negative emotions—similar to writing an angry letter you never mail—so you can go to bed with a clear mind.

See Psychological Techniques, Sleep Environment, and Better Sleep

3. Sip on decaf tea

Drinking herbal teas that include certain relaxing ingredients, such as chamomile, passion flower, valerian, and lavender can help promote the onset of sleep. Also, the ritual of heating up the kettle and sitting in your favorite chair with a mug in hand can be part of a calming evening routine.

See Teas for Better Sleep: Top Bedtime Tea Recommendations

4. Meditate

Meditating can help you wind down and slip into a peaceful state before sleep—and it can even reduce your perception of pain. All meditation requires is a quiet, dark room and 5 to 10 minutes of your time. You can even use your smartphone or tablet to download a free meditation app, such as Calm or Headspace, to help get you started.

See Mindful Meditation vs. Chronic Pain

5. Read a book or magazine

Curling up with a good book or magazine can calm stressful nerves and provide a relaxing atmosphere before bedtime. This activity is much more conducive to a restful night than the overstimulation that often comes with checking emails, watching exciting television shows, or scrolling through social media.

6. Stick to a strict nighttime routine

An inconsistent bedtime can make it difficult for your body and mind to know when to relax, contributing to your stress and delaying your sleep. Reduce this uncertainty by creating a pre-bedtime ritual and sticking to it. For example, you can turn your phone on airplane mode an hour before sleep, or you can decide to brush your teeth and wash your face at a certain time every night.

See Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

Ultimately, these tips for reducing stress won’t solve the underlying cause of your back pain, but they can help you experience better sleep and more relief.

See Addressing Pain and Medical Problems Disrupting Sleep

Learn more:

5 Essential Oils for Sleeping

Video: 11 Unconventional Sleep Tips: How to Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep

References:

  1. Ellegaard H, Pedersen BD. Stress is dominant in patients with depression and chronic low back pain. A qualitative study of psychotherapeutic interventions for patients with non-specific low back pain of 3–12 months’ duration. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2012;13:166. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-166.
  2. Bonzini M, Bertu’ L, Veronesi G, et al. Is musculoskeletal pain a consequence or a cause of occupational stress? A longitudinal study. International archives of occupational and environmental health. 2015;88(5):607-612. doi:10.1007/s00420-014-0982-1.