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How Getting Better Sleep Can Help You Fight Pain

By Brandon Pytel | April 9, 2018
How Getting Better Sleep Can Help You Fight Pain

Meet the newest member of your health and wellness team: your bed!

Sleep’s simple, restorative power is one of the cornerstones of healthy living. Whether it’s after a heavy workout or just after long day at the office, sleep lets our bodies go into repair mode, getting ready for the next day’s activities. But if you’re like over a third of Americans, you’re a little more acquainted with the lack of sleep end of the spectrum.

And that can have some very real consequences for your health and wellness. Lack of sleep can make it harder to concentrate and it can contribute to health-related issues like diabetes, hypertension, depression and obesity. Overall, the amount of sleep you get can affect your quality of life—especially if you experience pain on a regular basis.

So what can you do to get better, healthier sleep?

Know the Facts

Stress, pain and poor health can all lead to unhealthy sleep patterns. A 2015 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that pain can lead to poor sleep quality. Plus, it found that people with chronic pain slept, on average, 42 minutes less than recommended and people with acute pain slept 14 minutes less. People with pain were also more greatly affected by environmental factors like noise, temperature, light or an uncomfortable mattress. And people with pain were more affected by sleep problems.

That means if you suffer from any type of pain-causing ailment, you probably have trouble catching Zs, which puts you in between a rock and a hard place—pain can cause poor sleep, but sleep is also important for dealing with pain.

But one of the most important findings from this study found that people who made sleep their priority, regardless of pain status, reported more sleep. That means, if you set your mind to it, sleep is attainable, even if you experience pain.

Know How Much Sleep You Need

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults. People who are 65 and up should get about seven to eight hours. If you’re not hitting these marks, or even if you are and feel drowsy, try some of the below strategies. Soon you’ll be snoozing and getting back to your best self.

Create the Right Environment

Your bedroom is your sleep sanctuary. Finding your perfect levels of temperature, sound and light can really affect your chances for a good night’s sleep.

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

Research suggests that around 65 degrees is the sweet spot for a good night’s sleep. Your body regulates its temperature throughout the day and even when you’re sleeping. Your body temperature dips down when you go to bed, which is why a slight increase or decrease in temperature in the middle of the night can shoot you awake when you feel too hot or too cold.

Since we’re all different, it’s important to find a temperature that works best for you. Play around with the thermostat and find your unique temperature target.

Block Out the Sound

If you live in the middle of the city, sound might be a familiar (and annoying) part of your sleep routine. Knowing how to deal with that sound is a big step towards gaining better sleep. Ever wondered why sound interrupts your sleep? It turns out, even though you’re asleep, you’re brain isn’t. So if a sound jostles you awake, you have your brain to thank for that.

Your brain may be more sensitive to high-pitched sounds like a siren, car horn or door slam. White noise, or noise that creates a steady ambience that drowns out high peak noises, can be beneficial for sleeping. Try a sound machine, fan or ear plugs to block out these unwanted noise polluters and keep your sleep uninterrupted.

Lights Out

Believe it or not, your body is tuned to the sun’s rises and falls. If you’ve ever woken up naturally with dawn, that may be because of the early morning rays peeking into your bedroom. But artificial light can have a similar effect. All forms of light can send message to your brain that tells your body it's time to get up. This can suppress melatonin, a natural sleep-inducing hormone, making it tough to fall asleep.

And yes, that means that light from your electronics can affect your sleep too. Those light emitters, even from something as small or dim as a phone, tablet or computer can suppress melatonin and delay sleep. Instead, try a book or a magazine as you wind down for the day.

Also, consider blocking out TVs, alarm clocks or bright buttons before you go to bed. Invest in low-wattage lamps to help you wind down before sleep. Blackout curtains can keep out street lamps, car beams and other bright distractions. Or, you can always try an eye mask.

Find the Right Mattress and Pillows

If your bedroom is center stage, then your bed is the lead role. In a recent poll, over 90 percent of people cited a comfortable mattress and pillows are essential to the sleep experience. Finding the right sleep ergonomics, or postures and positions during sleep, can be the key ingredient to gaining better sleep.

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) finds that mattresses should support your body, letting it conform into its most natural position. By keeping your spine in its natural alignment, you’ll be putting you body in position to properly rest and recover. For this reason, memory foam mattresses can be a good fit for some people.

Word to the Wise: Make sure to flip your mattress over every couple of months to not overwear it. Also, try to replace your mattress every five to eight years. A good mattress is key to healthy sleep.

Pillows are also a big part of getting into a healthy sleep pattern. The ACA recommends pillows that, like the mattress, best conforms to your natural sleeping position and reduces stress and tension on the body. If you’ve ever woken up with a stiff neck or back, that’s because your body was in an unnatural sleep position through the night. An ergonomic pillow, like one made of foam, offers support that can limit these painful mornings.

Adjust Your Sleep Position

The ACA has also found that sleeping on your side is the healthiest sleeping position. This position takes strain off your back, reducing potential back pain. It’s also recommended to draw your legs toward your chest with pillow in between them.

If you prefer to sleep on your back, placing a pillow under your knees can help maintain an ideal lower-back curvature. Note that because of the strain it puts on your spine, sleeping on your stomach is generally not the best move. This extra strain on your back can lead to nerve compression, muscular imbalance and muscle pain.

Bonus Tips

You can do a lot for your sleep health by employing these strategies that make for a good sleep environment. Looking for a few extras? Look no further.

Hit the Gym

Did you know sleep quality and exercise could be linked? A recent review of nearly 3,300 sleep-related articles found that exercise can improve sleep in healthy people. The researchers also suggest that regular exercise can have even greater effects on sleep quality. Hitting the gym every day can pay off in the long run.

Stick to a Schedule

Find what works for you and stick to it. Your body sometimes acts like a fine tuned machine. By setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, you can train your body to better adjust its circadian rhythm to a schedule that is most convenient for you.

Don’t Be Afraid of a Little Trial and Error

Just because you live with pain doesn’t mean you have to live with drowsiness. Though pain and sleep are connected, trying out some of these strategies can help you catch up on those much needed Zz’s. And don’t be nervous if your sleep patterns don’t match everyone else’s—health and wellness is a personal journey. Once you figure out what works for you, you’ll feel well rested and ready to take on the day.

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