Everyone’s had a bad night’s sleep. From being more irritable to being less motivated at work, sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on our mental and physical health. On the other hand, getting a good nights sleep regularly can reduce our risk of obesity, depression, heart disease and diabetes- as well as aiding our recovery from muscle and joint pains!
The latest statistics (pre Covid) suggest that 1 in 3 people in the UK are affected by insomnia and that 200,000 working days are lost each year due to a lack of sleep.
The current advice from the National Sleep Foundation is that adults should aim for getting between 7-9 hours sleep per night, while children and babies should aim for even more in order to aid with growth and development.
Those adults who get fewer than 7 hours of sleep a night are 30% more likely to be obese than those who sleep for 9 hours or more.
Numerous factors can influence the amount of sleep you get, and not surprisingly if you are experiencing muscle and joint pain it can have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep. Not getting those z’s in can in turn make managing your pain more difficult.
Common causes of insomnia can include:
Joint and muscle pain- can make it very difficult to get comfortable in bed (read more about it below).
Stress & anxiety
Diet- for example too much caffeine or alcohol before going to bed.
Work- those doing night shifts can be particularly prone to insomnia
Mental-health conditions- e.g. depression
A poor sleeping environment- Old mattress and pillows or a bedroom that’s too light or noisy (snorers!)
Joint and Muscle Pain:
When you sleep well your body produces the chemical known as growth hormone. This hormone is a key component your body as it stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning. Yes, you can literally burn fat in your sleep.
If you aren’t sleeping well then your body won’t stimulate the release of growth hormone and therefore your recovery rate from injury will be slower.
Unfortunately your sleep can also be affected by pain. Most people experience a bad night’s sleep due to back or neck pain at some point in their lives. Part of recovering from an injury includes getting enough sleep.
Good sleep habits
Here are some useful tips and advice to help you get a good night’s sleep:
Create a routine
Try setting up a routine of getting up and going to bed at the same time each day- even on weekends.
A sleep routine will help your body more effectively release the hormone that helps you sleep known as melatonin. Creating a routine of listening to relaxing music or doing some gentle stretching before bed can act as a reminder for your body that it is time to get ready to sleep.
Avoid watching the television or working in your bedroom so that when you go to bed your body knows that it’s time to get some 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 melatonin production making it more difficult to get a type of sleep called “slow-wave sleep” which is essential for us to feel rested. Slow wave sleep is the most important stage of sleep as this is the stage in which the body re-energises and rebuilds itself.
Blue light during the day, especially in the mornings can actually be useful as it can make us feel more alert, but if we have too much blue light before bedtime then sleep can be disturbed.
Avoid the laptop for long periods or watching too much television just before bed to reduce blue light exposure.
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
Studies have shown that regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise which gets your heart beating faster, can improve sleep quality and just being more active during the day can also help improve sleep and reduce 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
In the current climate what with Covid-19 and lock-down many people are finding that their minds are too active at night and are losing out on sleep. Some people also find that worrying about not getting enough sleep whilst in bed makes the problem worse.
Clearing your mind isn’t easy but trying to be more relaxed about not sleeping can help. Try to concentrate on feeling calm and comfortable rather than panicking about getting to sleep.
If a good idea is keeping you awake, keep a notepad next to your bed and just write down the idea so that you can forget about it until the morning. Don’t type ideas onto your phone as it might tempt you to do some internet browsing (not to mention you would be getting blue light exposure).
Try some slow breathing and just concentrate on the action of breathing, perhaps counting your breaths as the air moves in and out. 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 as having a warm drink, reading or listening to an audio book or quiet music then go back to bed when you feel sleepy again.
Avoid stimulants and alcohol
Coffee, tea, coke chocolate and some medicines contain caffeine and other stimulants which can disturb sleep. The effects of caffeine can last for hours in the body so consider switching to decaffeinated drinks or avoid caffeine apart from in the morning. Alcohol may help you feel sleepy at night, but overall it will interfere with the quality of your sleep and prevent you from feeling rested when you wake up.
Avoid large meals late at night
A heavy meal before bed or too much spicy food at night can make it difficult to sleep, so consider how much you eat before bed. Green teas may help you relax but don’t drink too much before bed as this may mean you have to get up to go to the toilet at night.
Make your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
Sleeping in a slightly cooler room—around about 17° C is comfortable for most people, so make sure that you have enough, but not too much bedding. Opening a window at night may help. If you are disturbed by noise at night, consider wearing ear plugs and if you are woken by daylight, try a blackout blind.
Avoid day time naps
Don’t nap. Simple as that. If you had a bad night’s sleep the night before and then you have a nap you won’t be able to get a good sleep again that evening.
If you have to have a short sleep, make sure that you go to bed and set an alarm clock so that you don’t sleep for too long – 15 to 20 minutes max- and don’t even contemplate napping after the early afternoon! If you find yourself dozing in the afternoons or evenings, try to get up and do something, maybe go for a short walk or do something active to make you feel less sleepy. Daylight and or blue light from a tablet or computer can also increase alertness if you feel sleepy in the afternoon.
Generally speaking, taking sleeping tablets for long periods is not a good idea and lifestyle changes are much more helpful. Although medicines can help us sleep, they are not useful for long periods because they can be addictive, can stop working after a few days, or affect sleep quality. Low quality of sleep, even if there is plenty of it, can leave you remaining fatigued.
Some prescription medicines can also affect sleep, such as some antidepressants, painkillers and beta-blockers- so it’s worth discussing changing your medication with your GP if your tablets seem to be causing a problem.