Encouraging healthy sleep
If you don’t snooze, you lose
Everyone knows the feeling after a bad night’s sleep, from irritability to unproductivity, but longer lasting sleep disruption can have a much more significant effect on both our mental wellbeing and our physical health. Regular poor sleep increases the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and can lead to shortened life expectancy.
A number of factors can affect sleep, and not surprisingly patients experiencing musculoskeletal difficulties can find this a considerable hindrance to their ability to sleep. This sleep disruption can, in turn, make their ability to manage their pain more difficult.
Create a routine
Try to get up in the morning and go to bed at the same time each day, even at weekends. You may need to set an alarm. Creating a sleep routine will help your body make the chemicals that control sleep. Having a sleep routine such as listening to soothing music or doing stretching or relaxation exercises before bed can also remind the body that it is time to slow down and sleep. Taking a warm bath before bed may help you to feel relaxed and sleepy, and try to avoid using your bedroom to watch television or work so that when you do go to bed, your body knows that it is time to sleep.
Avoid blue light before bed
Electronic devices such as televisions, tablets and computers produce a certain type of light called “blue light”. Blue light interferes with a chemical called melatonin which helps us sleep, and it can also reduce a type of sleep called slow-wave sleep which is essential for us to feel rested.
Blue light during the day, especially in the mornings and after lunch can be useful because it can make us feel more alert, but if we have too much blue light before bedtime then sleep can be disturbed, so avoid using a computer for long periods or watching too much television just before bed. Getting more natural rather than artificial light by going outdoors as much as possible during the day can also help increase daytime alertness and improve sleep quality.
Do some regular exercise but not too close to bedtime
Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise which gets your heart beating faster, has been proven to improve the quality of sleep and just being more active during the day can also help improve sleep and fight fatigue. If you exercise too close to bedtime though, the exercise may make you feel more alert and this may disturb your sleep. Try to do some exercise in the early evening so that by bedtime you are ready to sleep.
Try to keep your mind blank
Many people who lie awake at night find that their minds are too active, for example thinking about worries, things that they need to remember or things that they have to do the following day. Some people also find that worrying about not sleeping then makes the problem worse.
Clearing your mind is not easy but trying to be more relaxed about not sleeping can help. Try to concentrate on feeling calm and comfortable rather than thinking about getting to sleep. If a good idea is keeping you awake, keep a pad and pencil next to your bed and just write down the idea so that you can forget about it until the morning. Try some slow breathing and just concentrate on the action of breathing, perhaps counting your breaths as the air moves in and out or try some progressive muscle relaxation – tense and relax each part of your body in turn starting with the toes and working upwards. Try visualising a relaxing place such as a wood or beach. Learning meditation or mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may also help to calm your thoughts.
If you are still awake after 15 minutes or so, try getting up and doing a light relaxing task such