Sleep, like diet and exercise, is closely linked to health and well-being. Sleep quality and duration affect a person’s health in many different ways. If left untreated, sleep problems and chronic short sleep are associated with:
- Pain and muscle tension.
- Increased inflammation in our body.
- Reduced immune system function, which is linked to greater vulnerability to pains and stiffness, as well as getting “burned out”, cold sores, colds, flu, dry skin, changes in breathing, sinus problems, stomach discomfort and changes in bladder/bowel function.
- Stress, anxiety and depression – all of which lead to increased pain and muscle tension.
- Tiredness, lack of energy and reduced interest in activities and performing exercise.
- Increased risk of conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity.
Therefore, improving one’s sleep can help with reducing pain, reducing muscle tension, improving immune function, mood, energy and overall general health. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort.
Why do I have problems with my sleep?
Many things can affect a person’s sleep time and quality. When you are in pain, you may feel restless, it can be hard to get comfortable and relaxed to go to sleep. While it was mentioned above that poor sleep can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, these things can also cause you to have a sleep problem. Low mood or negative, worrying or stressful thinking during the day, and particularly before going to bed, has been shown to directly have an effect on sleeping and the number of times you wake up during the night. Eating and drinking too late, which is discussed below, will also impact on your sleeping ability. Therefore, things like pain, stress, worry, exposure to screens (laptop/TV) and eating and drinking keep the body “switched” on. Therefore, the meditation and visualisation mentioned below along with the other tips may be very helpful with achieving this state of relaxation.
How do I know if I have enough sleep?
Most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Less than 6 hours can cause back and or neck pain. Sometimes (e.g. pregnancy, puberty, stress) we need even more! As well as the duration of sleep, there are other considerations e.g. Do you feel refreshed in the morning, and throughout the day? Do you not always need an alarm clock to wake in the morning? Do you have enough energy throughout the day? Do people tell you that you look refreshed? If you answered yes to these, you have enough sleep!
Tips to improve your sleep
Maintain a sleep schedule: You should try to go to bed at the same time every day (the same goes for waking up). This rhythm will help keep you refreshed throughout the day. Sometimes people in pain spend long periods in bed, yet not sleeping. So we suggest you stay out of bed at times other than when sleeping (or doing mindfulness/meditation), so that the bed is closely linked to sleep.
Eat and drink responsibly: Remember not to eat less than two hours before going to bed, to help prevent discomfort such as indigestion. However, you also shouldn’t go to sleep hungry, as that will also provide you with a lot of unnecessary discomfort. Also, control how much you drink before going to bed. Keep caffeine and alcohol consumption low – and especially before bed time.
Exercise more often: Doing any type of exercise/physical activity during the day will help you sleep more calmly at night. Walking, using the stairs, jogging, cycling, swimming, gardening, stretching are all good and help relax all the tense muscles in your body. When you are tired because of physical activities, you are sure to fall asleep faster. Always pick an exercise you enjoy, and start gradually!
Create a bedtime ritual: A bedtime ritual, such as reading a book, or doing some mindfulness/meditation, will help your body prepare to sleep. A regular bedtime ritual will make you feel tired around the same time every day, and fall asleep quicker. This goes hand in hand with your regular sleeping schedule.
Relax and clear your mind: Meditation and visualisation will help you prepare for make you prepared to go into a deep sleep. This is recommended also if you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep. Try the breathing, clear your mind and try not to think about everything that awaits you the next day. Make a deal with yourself that you will leave those things to the next day (imagine putting your concerns and jobs into a box and locking them away until the next day!. If this is not working, maybe get up for a while, then go back to bed and try your relaxation and breathing again. If you are not relaxed, then you won’t get the rejuvenation you need, and you won’t be able to do everything that you planned for the next day.
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