It turns out there are a lot of things you can do to improve your sleep. There are so many, in fact, that it can actually be overwhelming. We’ll be sharing a couple dozen tips as part of our Sleep Guide, so here’s my suggestion: read through this guide and pick a few that you want to try; gradually experiment, so you can figure out what works for you. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, and you’ll likely need to try several strategies to figure out what works for you.
But before going into those strategies, why are we even talking about sleep? Isn’t this blog supposed to be about chronic pain? It turns out that sleep is incredibly important for pain management. It’s so important that University of Michigan physician and pain researcher Dan Clauw has said that “the body’s two most potent analgesic systems are sleep and exercise” – which is basically a fancy way to say that sleep and physical activity allow our bodies to fight against pain.
Of course, bedtime can be a particular challenge for people with pain, since there are fewer distractions from the pain. That’s why it’s even more important for you to make it a priority to take the steps needed to maximize your chances of a good night’s rest. To start, let’s talk about setting up the right environment for sleeping.
Make Your Bedroom the Perfect Environment for Sleeping
Our brains tend to associate our surroundings and our senses with specific activities. Ever get hungry the moment you walk into your favorite restaurant? That’s your brain alerting your body to prepare for some delicious food. In the same way, you can set up your bedroom environment so that it causes you to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep until the morning. Here’s how:
- Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex. Avoid doing work, watching TV, or eating in bed. All those other activities can confuse your body into thinking it’s not ready to go to sleep.
- Reduce noise in your room. While your brain can get used to consistent noises (like a ticking clock or white noise) but unpredictable noises are more disruptive to sleep. Even if you live in a city or a loud place, there are steps you can take to cut back on that noise. At the extreme, you can get better noise-blocking windows. If that’s not possible, you can use earplugs or a noise machine to mask noises from outside your bedroom.
- Reduce light coming into your bedroom. Most people sleep best when their room is almost completely dark. You can do this with light-blocking curtains or even a sleep mask. If you’re someone that likes a little light, you can find nightlights that are much less invasive than the glare of a street lamp or other light coming from outside.
- Maintain a good temperature in your bedroom. For most people, this is around 65 degrees, but experiment with whatever works well for you.
In the next part of our Sleep Guide, we’ll talk about the importance of a regular pre-bedtime routine.
What kind of sleep environment works best for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Swedish Medical Center. Importance of Sleep When Living with Chronic Pain. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.swedish.org/services/pain-services/pain-management-guide/sleep-and-pain
Spine-health. Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/sleep/practicing-good-sleep-hygiene
Clauw, Dan. Chronic Pain – Is It All In The Head? Published Dec 5, 2013 [Video File], from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgCfkA9RLrM