Sleep is natural, something our bodies are built to do. Unfortunately, despite its fundamental importance to our lives, sleep isn't always easy. Hectic and irregular schedules, demands of work and family, illness, stress, exposure to light at night, and even the aging process can make regular, restful sleep difficult to achieve. Sleep is essential, something we cannot live without. These days, good sleep often doesn't happen without a plan.
Pain is another significant challenge to sleep. Nighttime pain can be uncomfortable, debilitating, and detrimental to sleeping well — but it doesn't have to be. Preparing mentally and physically can help ease pain and bring sleep about more quickly.
It's also important to know when to seek help for pain and sleep problems. I encourage my patients to create a plan to deal with both pain and sleep, using these strategies:
Mental relaxation is critical for sleep, particularly when pain is present. Nighttime stress is a powerful enemy to sleep, altering heart rate, causing anxiety, and creating tension in the body. The discomfort of pain can bring about stress and anxiety at bedtime.
"The discomfort of pain can bring about stress and anxiety at bedtime"
Relaxation techniques such as deep-breathing exercises and visualization help quiet your mind, allowing you to fall asleep more quickly and easily. Progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tightening and relaxing muscle groups throughout the body, eases physical tension and mental anxiety and improves sleep. Using relaxation techniques at bedtime is one way to calm your mind and body in preparation for sleep.
Preparing to get a good night's sleep also can start well before bedtime. Mind-body exercises such as yoga and tai chi are beneficial to both sleep and stress, as a growing body of research indicates. Regular meditation in combination with yoga has also demonstrated positive effects on sleep in scientific studies.
Finding a comfortable position for sleep allows you to fall asleep faster and increases the likelihood that you'll stay asleep, especially if you're experiencing pain.
Sleeping on your side is often the best position for those suffering from neck pain and low back pain, two of the most common sources of nighttime pain.
Sleeping on your back or your stomach can aggravate these types of pain.
The proper sleep equipment and sleep environment are also important to comfort, and to achieving restful sleep. Our bedrooms matter a great deal to our ability to sleep. Sufficient darkness, moderate temperature, and the right sleep equipment can make sleep easier to achieve. I recommend changing your mattress when your body begins to experience aches and pains upon awakening and at the outset using a mattress for no longer than 7 years.
I also recommend replacing your pillows every year, or more frequently if you have neck pain.
There is no reason to suffer in pain at night, depriving yourself of the rest that is critical to your health. Talk to your doctor about your sleep problems and about any pain you're experiencing. Advil PM is a non-prescription sleep aid that also relieves minor aches and pains.
Pain and sleep influence each other deeply. Treating both at once is a smart plan.
Michael J. Breus, Ph. D., is a Clinical Psychologist with a specialty in sleep disorders. He is the author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep (Rodale Books; May 2011) and BEAUTY SLEEP: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.