Sleep and pain, tips for improving sleeping habits for wellbeing and health

You might wonder why your massage therapist would be concerned with how you are sleeping. Well, sleep quality and quantity significantly affects not only your pain levels but also the likelihood that you will sustain an injury and the time it takes for you to heal. So sleeping well is an important part of both your general wellbeing and your body’s capacity to heal.

What happens in your body when you don’t sleep well

Poor sleep causes increased sensitivity in your nervous system, so any aches and pains in your body may feel more intense when you haven’t slept well or for long enough (like turning up the volume on a radio). Quite literally, things get on your nerves more easily when you are tired.

The effect of poor sleep isn’t just limited to the nervous system, it’s also thought to actually cause muscular pain and tenderness itself (trigger points). This is a vicious cycle because the development of muscular pain from a sleep disorder may then prevent quality sleep and rest, causing further symptoms to develop and so on.

Finally, when you sleep your body goes into regeneration mode and it heals, hence why it is called ‘restorative sleep’. Any wear and tear in the soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) from normal daily activity should be repaired while you sleep, so your tissues remain healthy and pain-free. If you aren’t sleeping well, the nutrients and chemicals your body produces to repair your tissues are less readily available and subsequently they may not be fully restored during the night as they should. So your potential for developing an injury is increased and the time it takes to recover may be longer.

How to improve the quality of your sleep

There are many practical steps you can take to help maintain a healthy sleeping pattern. Start small and try to gradually change your habits step by step:

  1. Ensure your room is as dark as possible. This may mean using blackout blinds and curtains in combination and removing all electrical lights including your mobile phone and even the standby LED light from a television. Research has shown that shining even a small light onto the skin near someone’s leg disrupts their sleeping rhythm.
  2. Remove as many electrical items as possible from your bedroom. Having at least 30 minutes away from electrical items prior to sleep improves sleep quality. Ideally, even the wifi should be turned off as there are studies which have shown that wifi signals in the house can actually disrupt sleep. You can also try a natural waking alarm clock. These have also been shown to reduce cortisol levels in your body by waking people more gently.
  3. Make a list. If you have a very overactive brain, write a very comprehensive to-do list for the next day. Then put the list in a draw and close it, so it is ready for the next day and your brain can turn off.
  4. Write down 3 things that have happened to you that day that you are grateful for and one thing you want to happen that is within your control. This ‘grateful log’ method has been shown to change brain patterns into a more relaxed state which can help with sleep.
  5. Eat good quality food. Having a high protein and high fat breakfast with an evening meal which is higher in carbohydrate has been shown to give more balanced energy levels throughout the day and will potentially help you sleep better. Make sure you avoid caffeine after lunch and ingest no more than 200mg of caffeine per day (the equivalent of one cup of good quality fresh coffee or two cups of instant). You can read more about eating well to relieve pain here.
  6. Get good quality exercise. When you exercise will no doubt largely depend on your schedule, however if you feel energetic and pumped up after exercise it’s probably best to train in the morning. Whereas if you feel tired and lethargic after exercise then training later in the day will probably suit you better.
  7. Supplement with good quality zinc and magnesium. These two minerals taken together help your body to absorb the other more efficiently and have been shown to help improve sleep. Cost does not always indicate a good quality supplement but if the company also provides supplements in either Norway or Canada you can be confident to buy, as the stipulations on quality of supplements in these two countries is very high.

I hope you find some of these strategies helpful and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions at all.

Kindest Regards

The Cambridge Massage Therapy team.