Sleep Well: 6 Strategies to Improve Sleep with Pain

Sleep Well: 6 Strategies to Improve Sleep with Pain

You probably don’t need to be told that sleep is important. 

You’ve probably felt the impact of a sleepless night, or multiple sleepless nights… the brain fog, difficulty focusing, feeling more emotional, difficulty with coordination and physical tasks.  

And you’ve probably witnessed the impact in others, especially if you’re a parent or caregiver - many a meltdown have been sponsored by fatigue!

Though we know sleep is important, it's not always easy to get enough good quality sleep, and things can get even more complicated when pain comes into the mix.

Pain contributes to poor sleep, poor sleep contributes to pain and around and around it goes in a downward spiral. 

There is no magic formula that will cure your sleep woes, but there are strategies that you can put in place to support yourself in getting better sleep.  

It can take some trial and error to figure out what works for you,  and you may need to work one on one with your Physiotherapist or a Sleep Coach for an individualized approach, but here are some of the things you can try to help get a restful 6-8 hours! 

6 Strategies to Sleep Well: 

1. Pain management strategies before bed

First thing’s first… when we’re talking sleep & pain, especially in an acute pain stage, or a flare, using pain management strategies close to or just before bed time can be really helpful! For example: if heat is helps relieve your low back pain, and your low back pain is waking you up at night,  use the heating pad before bed. If it’s specific movements that helps decrease pain, doing that in the evening could be really helpful! 

2. Keep a regular sleeping & waking schedule

A classic strategy! The more you can stay on schedule the better. We often use this strategy with kids, but may stray more from this as adults, and there are many reasons for that, but just because something has become more normal doesn't necessarily mean it's helpful! So, have an anchoring waking and bed time. Depending on many lifestyle factors, these times may vary person to person, but what's important is that you keep yours consistent. Our bodies love consistency, and if our waking and sleeping times are all over the place things can really go haywire!

When might this strategy not be helpful? When you’re sick or fighting an infection it may call for throwing the schedule out the window - sometimes we just need to let go and allow our bodies to sleep more so they can heal! 

3. View natural light in the morning & at sunset

Studies have shown that viewing low solar angle light in the morning and at sunset can help regulate circadian rhythm. What does this look like? Spending 10-30 mins in natural light (not looking directly at the sun) within an hour of waking and in the evening. No sunglasses, and ideally not through windows. Sitting outside, going for a walk are all great options! Cloudy?  Spend a little longer outside.   Short winter days? Do the best you can! Maybe you won’t be able to view the light within an hour of waking but can you make it happen shortly after the sun rises? Interested in learning more? Check out this video podcast by the Huberman Lab. This is one of a number of podcasts they've done about sleep so take some time to peruse the site if you're looking for a deeper dive. 

4. Get in movement & exercise during the day

How we sleep is impacted by what we do (or don't do) during the day. It can be difficult to fall asleep when you haven’t moved enough during your waking hours. We need to tire ourselves out!  Walking, exercising, gardening, yoga, running, cycling, household chores, whatever gets you moving can help set you up for a good sleep! Consider time of day and intensity of exercise. Doing something really vigorous close to your bed time may keep you awake, so scheduling that earlier in the day when possible may be more effective. Gentle movement can be great in the evening to help us wind down - a leisurely walk at sunset might just be the perfect two for one!   

5. Breath work

Certain breath work practices can help calm the nervous system and lull us towards sleep. We can use specific practices to help guide our system towards sleep, or to help us fall back to sleep if we've woken. Try this: to calm the nervous system, focus on slowing down your breath out. It’s not really about how big of a breath you can take in, but the long slow exhalation that is really important. Another great calming breath practice is alternate nostril breathing. This can help settle you before bed, or get back to sleep if you've woken up in the middle of the night. Interested in trying it out? Watch this video.  Yoga Nidra can also be a handy tool - this is a meditation practice that is often referred to as yogic sleep and helps you access deep relaxation. Interested in trying? Get comfy, and listen to this short guided practice. 

6. Sleeping posture/position:

There is no perfect sleeping position but it is important to make sure you are well supported and that the natural curves of your spine are maintained.  It might take some experimentation with the right pillows and supports to find what is best for you - and what works best may change with different seasons in life! Talk about your sleeping position with your physiotherapist for some suggestions about what is right for you.

Sleeping well is so important for our health and wellbeing, and yet so many people struggle to get a good night's rest! 

If you're struggling, there is help!  Let your clinician know that you're having trouble and we will work with you to find solutions. 

If you're interested in learning more, join Physiotherapist Miriam Mulkewich and Sleep Coach Janet Whalen for a FREE webinar on Wednesday March 22 at 7 p.m., where they'll be talking all things sleep and pain. 

Register here for Sleep Well: A Webinar About Sleep and Pain