updated content 2024
Getting a good night’s rest is particularly difficult when you have pain. Conditions such as migraines or arthritis interrupt sleep, and lack of proper sleep can exacerbate pain. It becomes a vicious cycle.
To help Pain Resource readers rest better, we interviewed sleep expert Nancy H. Rothstein. If pain inhibits your falling or staying asleep, here are her main tips for getting the rest you need to heal and rejuvenate.
1. Breathe into the location of the pain. Inhale slowly through the nostrils, and exhale through the nose or mouth. This is a doorway to relaxation. Focus on the area of pain and give it your attention. Imagine the pain being released and dissipating. This can have a calming effect.
2. Calm yourself physically and mentally before bed. If you like, take a warm or cool bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil. Release muscle tension by flexing muscles one muscle at a time then letting them relax. Start at your feet, moving up to your torso all the way to the eyebrows. If that to-do list is bothering you, write down an agenda for the next day or week, then put it aside. You’ll rest more easily knowing you have a plan in place.
3. Practice being grateful. A gratitude practice is a wonderful way to transition to sleep, especially when you have pain, illness, or stress. Instead of focusing on your discomfort or what’s wrong, think of things for which you’re thankful. Go through a list of three things, silently or out loud.
4. Imaging. The mind is powerful. Use it to create recovery. See yourself as healthy, feeling vibrant and well. Set a positive intention for your rest. Repeat an affirmation that you will sleep well and wake up refreshed.
5. Practice good eating habits. Your body needs ample time to digest food before sleep so that your organs can rejuvenate. The most substantial meals should be breakfast and lunch. Try to eat a light dinner three hours before bed, and don’t drink caffeine past 2 p.m.
If hunger strikes in that three-hour window, eat a light snack (but no later than two hours before bed). Sleep-friendly foods include bananas, oatmeal, or a small glass of tart cherry juice. A cup of herbal tea such as chamomile can also induce sleep.
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5 Ways You Can Get Better Rest
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Your body operates on a circadian rhythm, a natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. This consistency supports better overall sleep quality.
Create a Sleep-Inducing Environment: Make your bedroom a conducive environment for sleep. Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark, as these conditions promote relaxation and signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine to block out disruptive stimuli.
Limit Exposure to Screens Before Bed: The blue light emitted by smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Limit screen time at least an hour before bedtime to allow your body to wind down naturally. Instead, engage in relaxing activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing gentle yoga.
Practice Relaxation Techniques: Incorporating relaxation techniques into your bedtime routine can help calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
Watch Your Diet and Exercise: Regular physical activity during the day can improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation and reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. However, avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it can energize your body and make it difficult to fall asleep. Additionally, be mindful of your diet, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol, as they can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to restless nights.
These recommendations align with guidelines from reputable sources such as the National Sleep Foundation, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals focusing on sleep research and psychology.