As our lives move at warp speed, our body’s ability to recalibrate and recharge becomes all the more important for function. A quality and length-full sleep extends far beyond energy levels for the coming day. It is vital for higher order processing tasks such as long term memory consolidation, stress management, decision-making, organ function, anti-inflammatory processes, and emotional and hormonal regulation. I’m sure we have all felt the effects of a bad night’s sleep in some way or another.
So how much sleep do you really need? The Australian guidelines for sleep recommend 8 to 10 hours for children below the age of 14 years old, and between 7 and 9 hours for anyone older. This can vary slightly for everyone, some signs you are getting enough sleep include falling asleep within 20min of lying down, not waking up more than twice a night and feeling energized and focused throughout the day. If this all sounds a little foreign to you, there may be some room for improvement regarding your sleep hygiene.
Our body does its best tissue healing during sleep, and for this reason alone it is important. However a commonly overlooked benefit is pain regulation. Pain is a sensation felt in the body, but not on the skin or in the tissues themselves. Our experience of pain is decided by the brain and is based on nervous system input, emotions, past experiences and inflammatory markers- these factors decide the severity of pain and our emotional response to it. If lack of sleep lends to poor emotional and inflammatory regulation, our experience of pain suddenly becomes hypersensitized. Unfortunately it can turn into a feedback loop- where pain keeps us awake, lack of sleep increases sensitivity of pain, and so on. How do we break this cycle?
What are some of the things you can do to ensure a good night’s sleep even when pain is present?
TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS
The effects of blue lights such as those from our phones, tablets, laptops and TV’s are well known. Blue light suppresses the release of melatonin- our sleep hormone, which is why turning off the screens and picking up a book or listening to music 20 min before bedtime is a great place to start. Secondary to this, switching out your down lights for lamps in the evening can help let our body know it’s time to wind down.
CLEAR THE MIND
Stress levels, whether day or night, have a huge impact on our sleep patterns. If you find it hard to switch off your mind at night, try writing down or journaling before bed to free up some space in your mind. Many people also choose to listen to short meditations or guided breathing exercises to relax the body and mind and induce a state of calm.
OPTIMIZE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
To not only get to sleep but stay asleep, we need to be comfortable. I recommend my patients, if they’re able, to invest in a quality mattress and pillow. Ideally nothing older than 7-10 years for a mattress and 2-3 years for pillows. Your room should be dark, decluttered and according to the SleepFoundation.org, set to a cool 15°C to 19°C. As our core temperature drops at night, the cooler temperature signals to your body it’s time to sleep.
Pain can feel more severe at night if you are uncomfortable lying down, rolling over in bed or have been relying on distractions during the day. There are a few tips I recommend for patients to help with a restful sleep, these include applying heat to the area in bed such as a heat bag, going through some gentle stretches when lying down and using extra pillows to get comfortable and prop up particular areas of your body. You may also choose to take pain medication or supplements to help you get to sleep, some of my favorites include magnesium, melatonin and B12.
If you feel a more personalized management plan is appropriate for you, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any persistent pain or issues sleeping should be assessed by your doctor or healthcare provider.