Sleeping Through the Pain: Tips for a Good Sleep Hygiene

People with neck pain or back pain tend to have trouble sleeping. They may have trouble getting to sleep if they are sore or they may be awakened during the night because they cannot stay comfortable. In some people with neck or back pain, sleep is elusive and frustrating such that they give up and get out of bed well before they should or need to.

Insomnia has ripple effects throughout many aspects of a person’s life and health. A single night without enough sleep makes a person drowsy during the day, less alert, less productive and less effective. They may try to catch up on sleep only to have the pain keep them from sleeping comfortably.

In fact, a lack of good quality sleep can actually make back pain and neck pain worse. Insomnia can also worsen other medical and mental health conditions.

Good sleep starts with good sleep hygiene

People need sleep especially when they have chronic pain.The basics of good sleep hygiene are simple, but it is shocking how few people follow them.

The Rules for Good Sleep Hygiene

  • No more caffeine after lunchtime
  • No alcohol near bedtime, i.e., avoid night caps
  • No one should smoke, but certainly no smoking before bedtime
  • Do not go to bed hungry; have a snack to take the edge off
  • Get at least 20 min. of exercise per day…
  • …but don’t exercise within six hours of bedtime
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule; same time to bed, same time to wake
  • Never try to force yourself to sleep
  • Leave your worries outside the bedroom door
  • Sleep until you are rested, then get out of bed
  • Good sleep happens in dark, quiet, comfortable rooms
  • Bright lights are good for the daytime (in fact they are helpful in insomnia)…
  • …but avoid bright lights and computer screens for at least two hours before bedtime

Specific tips for people with chronic neck or back pain

Sadly, people with chronic pain can institute good sleep hygiene and still have difficulty getting good sleep. While it may seem obvious, one of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep is to minimize the pain.

Try these small changes to your routine:

  1. If you are taking pain medication, do not take it right at bedtime—adjust the schedule so you take it one to two hours before bed. This will give the medication time to dissolve in the stomach and be absorbed by the body so that it can do its work against pain.
  1. The same principle holds true for sleep medication. If you are taking over-the-counter or prescription sleep medication, you need to give it enough time to work before you try to fall asleep.
  1. Is your bed really as comfortable and supportive as it could be? Some people get relief from neck pillows or body pillows. If your mattress is old or excessively worn, it may be time for a new mattress. You sleep for a third of your lifetime—you deserve to be comfortable.
  1. Thinking about your pain or the fact that you cannot sleep will only interfere with sleep. Consider adding guided imagery, meditation, soothing (but not activating or stimulating) music, and a warm bath to your pre-bed ritual. This may help you focus less on the pain and make you drowsy enough to fall into blissful sleep.

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