Do you struggle to get quality sleep? What if I told you that you can have less pain, feel more alert and less irritable, and need less medication just by getting better sleep?
Sleep and pain tolerance are directly related.
Scientists have shown that improving sleep allows people to endure greater amounts of pain.
I know there may be several reasons you aren’t getting great sleep, but it is essential that you continue to develop good sleep habits and get more sleep at night. Not only will you feel better mentally and physically, you will have better pain tolerance. That means you can feel less frustrated and distracted by pain during the day just by getting more zzz’s.
A study split subjects into two groups. Half of the study subjects slept their normal durations (average 7.14 hours of sleep per night) while the other half where asked to spend ten hours in bed (average 8.9 hours of sleep per night). Researchers measured how much pain each subject could tolerate on day one and day four by measuring how long participants could keep a finger on a heat source.
The well-rested group of subjects showed a 25% increase in the amount of heat they could tolerate after just four nights of getting two extra hours of sleep each night. The researchers say this increase is similar to taking a 60mg dose of the painkiller codeine two times a day. They also speculate that improved sleep duration and quality can improve pain tolerance in all pain conditions. Wow!
Thomas Roth, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, says that if you are already sleeping eight hours a night you probably don’t need more sleep, but if you are only getting six or seven hours, get eight or preferably nine.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. The specific reason sleep is so beneficial is still unknown. It is believed that sleep-loss and pain both increase inflammatory markers in the body. Scientists, like Roth, believe that getting more sleep may help decrease this inflammation.
How many hours of quality sleep do you think you get at night?
To improve your sleep you’ll need to develop healthy sleeping habits and create the best sleep environment possible.
Healthy Sleep Habits
Practice these habits regularly to help signal your body and mind that it is time for sleep.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. This helps establish your new sleep/wake cycles.
- Do not take naps during the day of more than 20 minutes unless you have a medical condition, like MS, where it is recommended. Many people with sleep challenges are tired during the day and will nap to regain energy, but napping can make it harder to fall asleep on time at night.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol for at least six hours before bedtime. These interrupt your body’s natural sleep signals.
- Do not exercise within four hours of going to bed. Exercise early in the day for the greatest night-time benefit.
- Limit liquids in the evenings so you limit the need to get up and go to the bathroom.
- Create bedtime rituals, such as brushing your teeth, setting the alarm, and reading a book.
- Turn off devices at bedtime. The light from your smart phone and tablet can stimulate your brain and make it challenging to fall asleep.
- Take a warm shower or bath before bedtime to relax muscles and make it easier to get comfortable in bed.
- Stretch for 3-5 minutes gently before going to bed for increased relaxation and comfort while in bed.
- Drink a warm, non-caffeinated beverage about an hour before bedtime, such as herbal tea.
Healthy Sleep Environment
Take a fresh look at your bedroom and see how you can make small changes that will lead to big improvements in your sleep quality.
- Keep your bedroom dark. Block out light from outside of the house with curtains. Cover lights from electronics (like an alarm clock) and other devices inside your bedroom at night. You can also consider wearing a sleep mask. The light significantly interrupts your melatonin levels and disrupts your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
- Keep your bedroom at a very comfortable temperature. Being too hot or cold can cause you to wake up throughout the night.
- Do not work or watch TV in bed. Keep your bedroom for sleep and intimate activities only.
- Get out of bed if you are unable to sleep for longer than 30 minutes. Do something relaxing like read or listen to soft music. Do not use gadgets with lights. When you start to feel sleepy again go back to bed.
If you notice that you start to get anxious at night because you can’t sleep or if you wake up in the middle of the night, practice calming self-talk. Say things to yourself like, “Its ok that I woke up, I can easily fall back asleep.” “I give myself permission to let go of all thinking and planning until it’s time to get up in the morning.”
Put your bedtime in your calendar and plan accordingly so you are not stressed trying to get everything done at the end of the day. By making these small changes you will notice improvements. Stick to them and you will feel less pain, a more stable mood, and a higher quality of life. Get started tonight.
Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT