How to Sleep When You Ache
Do you sleep with pain? Even if you suffer from chronic discomfort, a good night’s rest doesn’t have to be a distant dream. Follow these 11 expert tips, and you’ll be feeling better by morning…
Pain is a cranky bedfellow: You can’t sleep with pain … but the less sleep you get, the more pain you’re in.Whether you’re sleeping with back pain, headaches or a chronic condition such as fibromyalgia, sleep helps you handle the pain better, says Michael Thorpy, MD, medical director of the Montefiore Medical Center Sleep-Wake Disorders Center in New York City.But if you don’t get enough sleep, your pain threshold drops and you feel worse, he adds.Although a good night’s rest may sometimes seem out of your control, there are steps you can take – and some you shouldn’t – to get the healing shut-eye you need. Read on for 11 ways to get your zzz’s and feel better too.The Do’s
1. DO maintain a regular sleep schedule.
“The single most important thing anyone can do is go to bed at the same time each night,” Dr. Thorpy says. When patients sleeping with chronic neck or back pain maintained a regular bedtime schedule – and improved their sleep conditions, such as controlling noise and light – they experienced better sleep and daily functioning, according to a 2010 study by the University of Rochester in New York.
2.DO rethink your pain medication.
Make sure your medicine doesn’t worsen sleep, says pulmonologist Nidhi Undevia, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Loyola University in Illinois. Some over-the-counter pain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, might promise to help you sleep with pain, but they can increase the time it takes to nod off, she says – possibly because they inhibit the “sleep hormone” melatonin. And opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), affect the brain in a way that can disrupt rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – which helps the body produce other hormones needed for tissue repair.It makes sense to take medication if you’re in pain, but consult your doctor to find the right one, she says.3.DO be cautious about napping.
A refreshing nap can help relieve pain, but keep it brief – only about 20-30 minutes, Dr. Undevia advises.Longer than that and you might not be tired enough to fall asleep at night, Dr. Thorpy says.If you think a nap would be a helpful pick-me-up from sleeping with back pain or a headache, find a quiet, comfortable spot – but don’t get undressed or get in bed. If your bed is the only place you can nap, lie on top of the covers. And if you’re afraid you won’t wake up in half an hour, set a (not too jarring) alarm.
4. DO practice relaxation techniques.
Depending on your pain level and its location, simple stretches and breathing exercises can provide temporary relief from discomfort and put you in sleep mode.Start by placing a heating pad on the painful area for about five minutes, advises Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic!(Avery Penguin). Then try a gentle stretch, up to – but not beyond – the point of pain. Relax, then repeat the stretch. If you’re suffering and can’t comfortably stretch, work on your breathing instead to avoid sleeping with back pain. Put your hands on your stomach and focus on drawing in a slow, deep breath, then breathe out through your mouth and relax. For tension headaches, a head massage can also work wonders in achieving pain relief, Dr. Teitelbaum says.“If you don’t have someone to do that for you, put a hot compress across your neck for about five minutes, then turn your head gently from side to side,” he suggests.
5. DO distract your mind while relaxing your body.
At bedtime, fretting about having problems sleeping will keep you up even longer.Too much worry about whether you’ll be able to sleep with pain can keep you awake longer and “might even develop into chronic insomnia after the pain issue is gone,” Dr. Undevia says.Instead, listen to soothing music or guided visualization recordings. Or try a warm or cool compress, along with quiet meditation or deep breathing.And remind yourself that things will get better. “When people have problems sleeping, it’s usually temporary,” Dr. Undevia says.6. DO keep your room free of distractions.
For many people, the bedroom often doubles as an office, media center or play area. But it should have only two purposes: sex and sleep.“The fewer wakeful activities you do in your bedroom, the better,” Dr. Thorpy says.
To create a sleep-friendly environment:
- Dim the lights before getting into bed – this is a natural cue to your body that it’s time for sleep.
- Train your kids and pets to sleep in their own beds; their twisting, squirming and pouncing can make it even more difficult to sleep with pain.
- Move TVs, computers and other electronics to another room. Turn them off an hour before bed so you can let your body wind down and relax.
7. DON’T overdo coffee.
Caffeine is a stimulant, so stay away from caffeinated beverages (including coffee, tea and soda) after lunchtime to avoid having problems sleeping or falling asleep.That doesn’t mean you need to give it up entirely, though. Unless you’re particularly sensitive, a morning cup of joe probably won’t affect your ability to fall asleep at night.
In fact, moderate caffeine intake has been associated with pain relief. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can make aspirin more effective against headaches, according to the National Headache Foundation. And two cups a day significantly reduces post-workout muscle pain, says a 2007 study in The Journal of Pain. But if you’re used to a hot drink in the evening, switch to herbaltea – and make sure it’s caffeine-free. Green tea is often seen as a lighter alternative to coffee, but it does contain caffeine.8. DON’T eat big meals or drink alcohol close to bedtime.
A heavy meal can cause heartburn or other digestive upsets that interrupt sleep. So you should wait 2-3 hours after eating before you go to bed, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.“Once you lie down, the acid can come back up,” Dr. Teitelbaum warns.If you crave a late-night snack (and aren’t sensitive to dairy), have some cottage cheese, yogurt or that old favorite, a glass of warm milk. These light foods contain tryptophan – an amino acid considered a natural relaxation aid – and enough protein to keep blood sugar stable throughout the night, Dr. Teitelbaum says.
Wine and other alcoholic beverages may relax you temporarily – but they can interfere with the quality of your sleep throughout the night.This effect is more pronounced in women than men, possibly because the genders metabolize alcohol differently, according to a 2011 University of Michigan study.Of course, you should never drink alcohol when taking sleep medications.9. DON’T do vigorous exercise late in the day.
Exercising within three hours of bedtime is likely to keep you up, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It raises your core body temperature and stimulates adrenaline, which means you could be too energized for shut-eye, Dr. Teitelbaum says.But getting exercise earlier in the day is a must. Sedentary adults who began doing aerobics four times per week raised sleep quality so much, they went from describing themselves as “poor sleepers” to “good sleepers,” according to a 2010 Northwestern University study.10. DON’T take a hot bath.
Baths can be a great way to de-stress and relax before bed. But taking one right before bed could actually keep you awake longer.
Your body temperature needs time to cool down to reach the deepest levels of sleep. So get in the tub earlier, or keep the water temperature moderate, the National Sleep Foundation advises.
11.DON’T lie awake.
Tossing and turning, counting sheep or running through tomorrow’s to-do list are completely unproductive in bed. “The more time you spend awake in bed, the more your body becomes conditioned to being awake [in that setting],” Dr. Thorpy warns. “That’s not helpful, either for sleep or pain relief.”In fact, adults with chronic insomnia actually slept better if they spent less time in bed, according to a 2011 study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.So take a break, move to the couch or a comfortable chair and do something relaxing – such as reading or listening to soft music. After a while, you’ll probably feel sleepy again.