Joshua Bruner, DPT, OCS, CSCS, Physical Therapist, Southwest Health
Are you struggling to sleep most nights of the week? If yes, you are not alone! A significant number of individuals in the United States struggle with sleeping issues. Sleep disorders or insomnia are prevalent today, as 20% to 42% of individuals experience a lack of sleep.
This prevalence is even higher (53%-90%) in individuals experiencing chronic pain. Despite the significance of sleep disorders, individuals can improve their sleep quality by taking the correct steps. Hopefully, you’ll learn a few tricks about correcting your sleeping habits.
Sleep is critical to improve overall health and prevent various diseases. Our bodies use rest to help recover and heal from injuries or health conditions by increasing the immune system’s response needed to decrease inflammation throughout the entire body. Stress hormones like cortisol are also reduced when sleep quality improves.
Lowering cortisol helps protect the body from causing further damage to itself when trying to recover. An increased risk of developing multiple health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, etc., has also been identified in people with poor sleeping habits. Therefore, sufficient sleep is crucial to maintain proper health and well-being!
So, why do many people struggle to fall or stay asleep? There are many causes of sleep disorders and insomnia. Increased life stresses are probably the most common reason for lack of sleep. Other factors such as anxiety, depression, alcohol or drug use, sleep apnea, uncomfortable bed, and environmental issues such as too hot or noisy can also contribute to poor sleep.
Pain can also contribute to sleep deprivation, but a lack of sleep can cause chronic pain. Multiple studies have found that poor sleep can cause chronic pain in originally pain-free individuals. Therefore, lack of sleep is more likely to cause increased pain than pain is to cause sleep disorders. Improving one’s daily sleep alone has been shown to resolve chronic pain in most individuals.
Improving sleep efficacy will provide many health benefits, but where do you start? Most poor sleeping habits are caused by factors that occur during our waking hours. Therefore, the first step is to address these poor habits to help improve your sleep quality. Below is a list of sleep hygiene and advice one can use to improve sleeping habits. These suggestions should be used before considering the use of medication.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Try not to watch TV or work in bed
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine, like reading a book or meditating
- Exercise daily, but avoid moderate to vigorous exercise at least 2-3 hours before bed
- Avoid caffeine at least 4 hours before bed
- Refrain from drinking alcohol or smoking 3-4 hours before bed
- Don’t take unprescribed or over-the-counter sleeping medication without consulting a physician
- Avoid daytime napping
- Limit harsh lighting and noise
- Avoid eating large meals or spicy foods 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Hide clocks if you tend to clock watch throughout the night
- Don’t force sleep if you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes
- Change rooms or environment if you are unable to fall asleep within 30 minutes
- Incorporate morning light early upon wakening to regulate circadian rhythm
Besides changing sleeping habits, research has shown that exercising daily and improving nutrition can also increase sleep quality. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation or reading, can help to decrease stress and anxiety, often contributing to poor sleep. More advanced treatments from a specialist, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, may be used in more extreme cases of insomnia. This treatment will help retrain the body and normalize the circadian rhythm needed for proper sleep cycles.
If you are still struggling to improve your sleep despite trying to change your poor habits, it may be time to seek professional advice from a healthcare provider. Occasionally, individuals still struggle to sleep even though they have made the necessary changes to their sleeping habits. These individuals may require assistance from sleep aids such as over-the-counter or prescription medications. These sleep aids, such as Benadryl and Temazepam, should not be used without discussing with a medical provider or after trying to change sleeping habits.
Experiencing a lack of sleep most days of the week should not be considered a “normal” thing or something that happens to everyone as they age. The average adult should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night for full health benefits. Don’t let someone tell you that sleeping 7-8 hours per night is not essential or that working more and sleeping less is necessary to advance your career.
Sleeping less than 7 hours per night has been shown to increase the risk of early mortality. If you’re struggling to sleep most nights, don’t be afraid to reach out to your primary physician or therapist to receive proper guidance or referral to a specialist if necessary.
Physical therapists at Southwest Health’s Rehab Services in Platteville, Cuba City, and Kieler Clinic are here to help if you need additional assistance. Joshua Bruner, DPT, OCS, CSCS, is one physical therapist who is willing to talk about the benefits and potential concerns of sleep training. Joshua has experience working in various orthopedic facilities with a specific focus on sports injuries, chronic pain, joint replacements, and post-surgical rehabilitation. He has received additional knowledge of rehabilitation services that involve workers’ compensation injuries and work-hardening programs. Joshua also enjoys teaching running mechanics, assisting athletes at The EDGE, and acquiring further knowledge on how to best treat patients.
If you have any additional questions or want more information about sleep hygiene, you can contact Southwest Health’s Rehab Services at (608) 342-4748 or talk with your primary care provider.