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Most people we see at the clinic simply don’t sleep well. If you don’t sleep it affects your function not least of the amount of pain you feel. If you’re in pain, grumpy and feeling lethargic chances are you’re pretty depressed and it’s a long way back from all of these joyous symptoms. Thankfully for you we’re not purveyors of bad news. In this article we share with you our best advice for helping you cure any insomnia.
Why should you listen to us? Well because these are the tried and tested methods we’ve been using with our clients for over 14 years. While non of this is guaranteed to work for everyone. Each piece of advice we share later in the article have helped many different people. Individually they are all good ideas. Collectively they have the power to radically change your life.
Loss Of Sleep Increases Pain
Firstly why would a Sports Therapist be so interested in sleep. Well to start with I quite like it. I’m a strict 8 hours a night kind of guy. I know personally that if I don’t get my quota of sleep I’m a bit grumpy, especially first thing in the morning. Which isn’t great for the paying customer! But it’s the affect on pain that really interests me. Many of our clients who are struggling with long standing pain also struggle with sleep deprivation of one kind or another. Whether that be caused by high stress levels or a screaming child. Simply put, if you don’t sleep, you feel more pain.
This is our anecdotal experience across all of our therapists. It also ties in nicely with the concept of central sensitisation is a simple concept we use to explain why some people simply feel more pain. Lack of sleep increases our sensitivity to pain. Getting better sleep increases our resilience to pain. I really wasn’t short of papers to back this view up. There’s a review of these pieces here.
1. Relaxation Breathing
This is number one for a reason. As a clinic we use breath work to calm the nervous system to reduce people’s pain. Breathing, simply put, makes you more relaxed. This is ideal just before bed whether you have problems getting to sleep or not. It puts you in a relaxed state as you fall asleep to ensure a restful night’s sleep. This can even help people who grind their teeth in their sleep. The more relaxed you are you less likely you are to do those ‘stress habits’ in your sleep.
The goal here is simply to do some relaxation breathing every night before bed. If you’ve not done it before you should start with simply 2 minutes as the extra oxygen can leave you feeling a bit light headed. Gradually increase the duration as you get used to the sensations. We aim for a minimum of 2-5 minutes each night. As you get more experience try building this up to 15 minutes. You will feel very floaty after 15 minutes of relaxation breath trust me – dare I say relaxed even!
When you get the breathing right it slows your brain down and is great for helping you to compartmentalise your day. Start by simply laying on your back comfortably on your bed. Focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth in a slow and calm manner. We are trying to use our diaphragm for relaxation breathing so we would hope to see the tummy come upwards on the in breath and then downwards on the out breath. Have a watch of the following video to see how it’s done:
Build this in to your bedtime routine so it becomes a habit to be relaxed as you drift off. If you don’t drift off while you’re doing the breathing just enjoy the relaxation.
2. Reduce Your Blue Light Exposure
The impact of so called ‘Blue Light’ emitted by our gadgets and it’s impact on our sleep has been in the press a great deal recently. This is summarised in this nice article from Harvard Health.
Not only does it throw our biological clock out of whack (circadian rhythm – if we want to use the fashionable term) but it is also thought that it may contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. You have been warned!
Something I try to implement myself is to give myself a cut off time after which I don’t use the phone. Sometimes I have a conversation with the wife instead – novel I know! Just work out what is going to work for you. There is a school of thought that suggests you shouldn’t sleep with your phone in the bed room. Which I think is a great idea… it’s just I use my phone as my alarm!
3. Stop Chores At A Set Time
Modern life is busy. Really busy. I could write a whole blog on why that is and what we can do to change that. In fact I’ve just made a note to do just that. Many of us are guilty of going and going and going. The “I can relax when all the jobs are done” mentality. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but the jobs will never all be done. So you may as well schedule in some hard earned relaxation time and stick to it. Give yourself permission to switch off and chill out.
I’ve implemented a system at home where jobs and chores are banned after a certain time in the evening. The wife loves this one if she asks me to do something and I simply point at the time. She tells me some flexibility in this rule is required!
There’s more tips on how to stay chilled and not let things gets to you in our previous post Stand like Wonder Woman To Defeat Stress… And 8 Other Super Ways To Chill Out.
4. Find Healthier Relaxation Than TV
There’s a whole bunch of research backing up what we were all told as children – TV rots your brain. This article from Forbes is a great summary of the impact of excessive TV watching. It really does make scary reading. Mentioning big things like dementia and Alzheimer’s in later life and even reduced brain function in younger adults.
From a relaxation / sleep perspective TV is simply pointless. Watching TV doesn’t really aid relaxation. It just switches the brain off. Equivalent to a temporary lobotomy! Reading is good. Walking is good. Colouring is good. Art is good. Conversation is good. Knitting is good. Needle work is good.
Sitting and being is good. How often do any of us just sit and be in the modern world? We need those times of rest and contemplation. Rather than the constant stimulation the modern world throws at us. Anyone remember the saying from the kids program Why Don’t You… switch off the TV and do something less boring instead.
5. Get Into A Healthy Routine
Some of us have more control over our routine than others. We may have little control over what is required from us day to day. But we can control our reaction. If there is something you truly don’t like about your life, change it. That’s a huge one right there! I appreciate people may not be quite in the right place for such profound change. So a healthy routine is the next best thing – it may even give you the courage to make the changes you need for a happier life.
You could get home from work veg in front of the TV to try to distract yourself from from the stresses of the day. If it’s been a really tough day TV might not quite switch your brain off so you reach for your preferred alcoholic beverage to take the edge off. One doesn’t quite cut it so you reach for another. Before you know it it’s late and you’ve not eaten so you grab whatever you can to eat. Maybe watch a bit more rubbish TV before collapsing into bed for some not very restful sleep.
Now I don’t want to come over all virtuous so I’ll fess up. Of course I’ve done this myself. Who hasn’t. Generally speaking in my previous life and previous career. Which thankfully spurred me ultimately onto better things. But occasionally the pressure of being ‘the fixer’ still takes it’s toil. This is the routine I try to avoid at all costs. Let’s look at a healthier option…
You get in from work and plan what your having to eat.You take yourself off to your bedroom where you do some relaxation breathing. You change out of your work clothes and head out to do some exercise of whatever intensity you fancy. Whether that’s a relaxing walk or a full on sprint. It really doesn’t matter. You come back and after a shower and prepare a nice healthy meal which you sit down to enjoy and take your time. You then pick up a novel by your favourite writer which you read for an hour or so. You then start getting ready for bed and finish with some more relaxation breathing which sends you blissfully off to sleep.
So the second one is the virtuous version of your post work routine. Yes it doesn’t mention partners, kids or any other commitments but if you can aim to have as many healthy aspects to your post work routine as possible you will sleep better.
6. Work On Yourself
As mentioned previously. If there’s something about your life you don’t like do something about it. No one else will sort it out for you. If it’s your job I’m not suggesting you start writing your resignation letter. A more constructive thing to do would be to start looking for alternatives. Maybe you want to change careers. Start to take action to make this happen.
Perhaps this all sounds way too scary. Change is scary. But necessary for a healthy and rounded life. If you really want to do something and are too scared Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway is a great self help book to start you thinking more positively and achieve the life that you want. If you’re held back by something from the past, or not sure what it is that’s holding you back, The Language Of Emotions is another great book for sorting your ‘stuff’ out. Neither of these book have all the answers but they will get you moving in the right direction,
In relation to sleep. If we are in a good place mentally then we will sleep better. If you’re not in a good place mentally you need to work on it. If you’re really not in a good place mentally skip the books and get some counselling!
7. Cut Down On Alcohol
Sleep under the influence of alcohol just simply isn’t restorative. It’s more like passing out than resting. Even if you’ve just had a cheeky couple of help you get off to sleep. You’ll be much better place in life to follow any of the tips here than reaching for the bottle.
8. Mattress Set Up
So obviously your bed needs to be comfortable. If it isn’t, sort it out. As to whether it will contribute to you aches and pain is another thing. We discuss this in great detail in our previous blog: What’s The Best Mattress For A Bad Back? Do they make any difference to back pain?
9. Sleep Position
This is the sleep related question I get asked the most. “What’s the best position to sleep in?” I always respond with whatever is most comfortable for you. I think the position you sleep in is less relevant than how relaxed you are when you sleep. Many people when they first come to see us wake up in more pain than when they went to bed. Yes there can be mechanical reasons for this. But a lot of the time people are what I call “sleeping tense.”
If you’re stressed out and wound up this can easily continue on a subconscious level as you sleep. Making your muscles tighter, maybe clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. We advise to simply sleep in your most relaxed position. If you can’t, for whatever reason, go for the next best. If you can’t get comfortable at all your doctor is your first port of call.
I also frequently get asked about pillows. “How many pillows should I sleep with?” You already now what I’m going to say… whatever is most comfortable for you. It’s individual. Consider a body builder with massive shoulders and a tiny ballerina. If they both sleep on their side will they need to the same amount of pillows to keep their neck in a neutral position? Of course not.
10. Avoid Your Partner At Night!
Now we all know the Germans are efficient. At pretty much everything. It appears sleeping is no exception. I’m always amused to see the mattress and duvet set up when staying German guest houses. In many places it is set up as a double bed but with two separate single mattresses. So if one of you likes a firm mattress and one of you likes it soft. No problem.
Better still they come with two single duvets. No more duvet wars! As for snoring I’ll leave you to sort that one out. A quick jab in the side normally does the trick. For the serial offenders move them into another room. Simply explain that you’ve read this article that tells you if you’re stressed and not sleeping it causes you pain!
So there you have it. Our top 10 tried and tested tips to help you get a great nights sleep. In isolation many of them are common sense and many of them you will have heard before. But put them together and the sum of the parts becomes greater and provides a powerful remedy to those sleepless nights. So many of our clients have successfully implemented these changes to help their well being and reduce their pain levels. Why don’t you try it too?
If you are still struggling to sleep then you could come and see us. Our hands on treatment helps release the areas that are keeping you tense. Many clients report having a fantastic nights sleep after one of our sessions. Nearly all of our clients report walking out more relaxed than when they walk in. And of course feeling less pain too. If you’d like to speak to one of our therapists to understand how you could benefit then give us a call on 01793 613352 or mail us at info@BrightonSportsTherapy.co.uk.
If none of this works and you’re still struggling then please get some help! In the first instance consult your GP. They will be able to point you in a different direction for help and discuss medication to help you. Whilst you don’t want to be taking medication in the long term in the short term if it helps keep you sane enough to put your energies into finding a longer term solution.
This article first appeared on our Brighton site.