Less Sleep Can Equal More Pain: Part II

In Part I of this topic, we talked about sleep and pain and the sleep, stress, pain triad. If you're looking for more detail regarding sleep and pain specifically, the New York Times recently published an excellent article on the complex relationship between these two elements. They discuss a study that demonstrated lack of sleep created a ramped up sensation to pain, and a loss of natural analgesic reaction.

After reading part I about sleep, you understand the sleep, pain, stress triad. But how do you start making positive changes to improve your sleep?

To get right to the point, there isn't an easy solution. Similar to improving other areas of your health or life, real improvements take effort, diligence, and repetition. Getting better sleep often consists of creating new habits.

Many of these concepts are simple. But, that doesn't mean that it's easy to create a new habit.

Just like replacing unhealthy habits in other areas of your life can be difficult, improving sleep habits is no different.

Calling all parents in the room!

It is even more important for you to fall asleep easily, because of the increased likelihood that you'll be woken up in the middle of the night (particularly those with infants & toddlers & depending what stage they're in). You know the feeling of laying in bed (for what seems like forever) trying to fall asleep, only to have your kiddo start crying the second you start to drift off. Then the cycle repeats and you end up utterly exhausted from having little to no sleep all night. For those parents who are also dealing with pain, this lack of sleep can cascade and substantially increase your pain perception.

Most parents make the discovery pretty early on, that if you stick with a bedtime routine for your child it results in fewer bedtime battles and better sleep for your little one. The same concept also applies you! By creating (and sticking to) a bedtime routine for yourself, you can maximize the amount of sleep you're able to get in a given night. 

When you can improve your sleep, the payoffs carry over to all aspects of your life. The effort is well worth it! Are you ready to dive in?

Examine your pre bedtime routine:
  • Do you stop answering emails, scrolling social media, reading the news, etc., 2-3 hours before bedtime? Or are you watching 'just one more episode' on Netflix while lying in bed?
  • Do you wind down with a cup of tea and read a book? Or is your mind spinning, making a mental list of all the things you need to do tomorrow?
  • Do you have a deep breathing or progressive relaxation practice? Or are you trying to get 'just one more thing accomplished' before you turn in for the night?
There are many components to what we call 'sleep hygiene'

(some of which we have covered in previous blog posts), but in this blog post, we'll focus on a pre-bedtime routine.

A pre-bedtime routine is one of the best and most powerful ways to get yourself into rest and relaxation mode and set yourself up for a satisfying slumber.

The specifics of a bedtime routine will be a little different for everyone based on your needs and preferences, but here are some guideposts to get you started.

1. Start the process AT LEAST 1 hour before your desired bedtime.

This does not mean your routine needs to be a full 60 minutes long. Just start the process an hour before your bedtime. For most people, it takes a little bit of time for your brain to stop buzzing and shut down from the day.

2. STOP for the night.

Stop working, stop answering emails, stop scrolling social media, stop reading the news, stop watching TV, etc.None of these things help you sleep. You already know this. So just do it already.

3. Review your game plan for the next morning.

Going over your schedule or agenda for the next day and writing down any notes or making a priority list helps to quiet the thoughts of 'don't forget this or that' while you're falling asleep. It also helps make your mornings more productive! Similarly, lay out your workout clothes if you have an am workout planned and pack your lunch for the next day in the evening. Even if you give yourself time to do these things in the morning, having them completed and ready to go the night before helps your brain wind down thus allowing more restful sleep.

4. Create your 'sleep association trigger'.

Listen to calming music, have a cup of tea, read a book, stretch or do progressive relaxation exercises, diffuse essential oils. Find something you like and do it. The goal with this is to create an association in your brain and body with a certain activity and sleep. With repetition, this 'sleep association trigger' will signal rest and bedtime to your system.

5. Keep pen and paper by your bed.

If you start thinking of your to do list, or have a great idea pop into your mind as you're trying to drift off to sleep, jotting it down right then can help quiet your brain. That way you're not thinking "don't forget x, y, z..." on repeat as you close your eyes.

Putting it into practice

Try implementing these 5 pre-bedtime guideposts every day for the next few weeks. These five strategies can be essential to helping you create a pre-bed routine that will improve your quality of sleep and help you be more rested, focused and ready to take on the day when morning comes.

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