I have a love/hate relationship with sleep. When it all goes well, I think, "Wow! I love sleep! Sleep is the greatest!" When it all goes bad, I actually physically hate sleep with every fiber of my being. And I know that you know exactly what I mean.
When you're living with chronic pain, it can be extremely hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, those of us with chronic pain have worse sleep quality and more stressors than our non-suffering counterparts. Those lost hours of sleep can add up to a huge deficit in our sleep account. Plus, consistent sleep troubles mean you're spending more time in the light sleep zone, instead of in the restorative deep sleep zone where your body rejuvenates itself. Long story short, less sleep makes you feel more fatigue and pain the next day. It's truly a vicious cycle.
Whether it be pain that wakes you up in the middle of the night, zapping your energy for the next day or just the very fear of nighttime waking that's been keeping you from falling into glorious slumber, you can rest in the fact that you are not alone. Thankfully, there is something you can do to help soothe your pain and take back your nighttime routine.
This quick tip will make a big difference.
Research published in the Harvard Men's Health Watch says that during the day, those of us with chronic pain keep ourselves distracted so we don't think about the pain we're feeling. I absolutely agree. I find a million little projects to do all day long because being productive really does take my mind off of my pain. The problem with that, Harvard says, is that once we wind down and turn our minds off, all we have left to do is think about the pain we feel. All of that up close and personal time with our pain can make it incredibly difficult to fall asleep.
What's the answer to this dilemma? Stay distracted but in the most relaxing way possible. Something Harvard calls, "Relaxing Distraction," can actually help soothe your pain and allow you to focus solely on nodding off. When done correctly, this mindfulness practice can help you stay asleep without using pain medication or other means. Let's take a closer look at how to do it.
A Guide to Relaxing Distraction
I bet you never dreamed I would tell you to find something to take your mind off of your pain to help lull you to sleep but it's really that quick and easy. By spending just a few minutes before bed shutting down your pain center will make a big difference in your sleep quality. Choose one of these exciting therapies to try.
There is a bevy of audio recordings available to help you get your mind off of your pain and into a relaxed state of mind. Whether it be the calming sounds of ocean life or a book on tape about the discovery of pi, letting your mind concentrate on something soothing can have an incredible effect. There are also many apps available that have your nighttime needs in mind.
You can be trained in a technique of mind-body intervention called guided imagery. This technique allows you to take your mind to another time, place or location as a way to zone out from the everyday. I don't know about you, but I've been choosing Santorini every time! Talk to your doctor to see if this service is offered at your local library or hospital so that you can be trained on how to use the guided imagery technique to the fullest. Most universities and colleges have free classes you can take like these at Michigan State University. No college near your hometown? Check out these links from the University of Florida Mind and Body Center which can help you begin the training process.
Known as a blocking strategy, repeating a number or word over and over can cut out your pain and help you relax. Try using a stop word or count until you reach a certain number. This worked well when you were five but will work just as well now that you're trying to shut down your mind.
Basic Rhythm Breathing Meditation
A technique that focuses on slowing down your breathing and clearing the mind can relax your entire body and mind in less than five minutes! That's right, follow a guided rhythm breathing meditation and you can reap the benefits of a lower heart rate and a sounder sleep.
Mr. Sandman, Up My Odds
To improve your overall sleep life, you've got to understand how what you do during the day plays into your overall nighttime routine. You might have heard a lot about crafting a sleep hygiene routine that can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night but you might not know exactly how to do it. Trust us! It really does work and a few changes can make a big difference. Crafting a healthy sleep hygiene routine means making positive changes that help your body regulate its circadian rhythms, the natural ebb and flow (rise and fall) of your sleep cycle. Essentially, sleep hygiene helps reset your biological clock so that you wake up and fall asleep at the same time each day. Things you can do to have healthy sleep habits are as follows:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
- Limit caffeinated beverages, especially before bed
- Make your bedroom for sleeping and loving only (limit distractions)
- Sleep like a bat in a cave (think light-blocking curtains and no night-lights)
- Limit screen time before bed (the bright light wakes up your brain)
- Don't eat right before you sleep
- Have a nice shut-down routine (relaxing distraction, anyone?)
If you've crafted positive sleep hygiene throughout the day, any other added techniques will help you fall asleep quickly and easily. Try some nighttime stretching or a little lavender in a hot bath to up the ante. And don't be afraid to try a new position or pillow. You never know what might be the golden key to slumberland. Just remember to throw in a little relaxing distraction to help you catch your Zs. Sleep tight!