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Restorative Sleep: How to Sleep Well When Your Back Hurts

All of us wake up feeling like a million bucks after a good night’s sleep. Makes you feel like you can tackle anything ahead of you that day. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one-third of all American adults are not getting enough sleep, which can cause a myriad of short- and long-term health problems.

That restless sleep can be blamed on any number of reasons, but since nearly 80 percent of us will experience back pain in our adult life, it’s no wonder nighttime back pain can cause uncomfortable and sleepless nights, leading to drowsy, even cranky mornings.

Since getting a good night's sleep is crucial to being happy and productive during the day, find out how to get restorative sleep even when you're experiencing back pain.

The Need for Sleep

There was a reason our parents insisted we have a bedtime when we were children. Creating a sleep schedule and good sleep habits early in life can produce a lifetime of health benefits. Health experts have always stressed the importance of diet, exercise, and a good night’s sleep. Our body needs rest just as much as it needs activity, which is why we will spend a third of our lives sleeping. But closing our eyes or simply napping isn’t enough, restorative sleep is the beneficial sleep we need at night.

The Five Stages of Sleep

Restorative sleep consists of the completion of all five stages of sleep and the chemical changes that occur within a twenty-four-hour period that allows the brain and body systems to repair, heal, and grow.

These five stages are:

1. Light theta wave sleep

2. True light theta sleep

3. Light delta wave sleep

4. Deep slow wave delta sleep

5. Rapid eye movement sleep (REM)

Restorative Sleep Benefits

Restorative sleep keeps your body functioning properly. Research has shown that without achieving all five stages of sleep, including the REM cycle, our bodies exist in a deficit. When body systems, organs, and cells are not properly repairing themselves, it may lead to health issues. Bodies need restorative sleep to perform renewal functions like muscle growth, protein synthesis, and tissue repair.

Psychological studies indicate the benefits of completing the REM sleep cycle to help with mental functions like learning and memory. It’s why we were always told to get a good night’s sleep on a school night; so we would do well educationally. Research also indicates that sleep is crucial to helping us manage stress and emotions.

Contact National Spine & Pain Centers to schedule an appointment with an affiliated pain specialist today.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?

Deep sleep occurs mostly within the first third of the night, about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. For adults, experts suggest getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for proper rest.

How Do You Get the Best Restorative Sleep?

Having a consistent sleep routine is the best chance you have to achieve restorative sleep on a regular basis. This means, when possible, keep a regular bedtime and wake time. Bear in mind, there are daytime activities that can negatively impact a good night’s sleep, including caffeine or alcohol consumption, smoking, and stress.

Keeping a healthy lifestyle like eating right and exercising equates to a good night’s sleep. It’s best to avoid eating a large meal right before bed. Prior to going to bed, try to unwind from the excitement of the day. Experts recommend decompressing by taking a bath, coloring, writing in a journal, reading, or listening to soothing music as part of a good bedtime routine.

What Should I Do if I Can't Sleep?

Interrupted sleep can happen for any number of reasons. Knowing how important at least seven hours of quality sleep is, it’s important to do what it takes to get back to sleep. First, it’s normal to lay in bed about 20 minutes before dozing off, so give it a chance. Experts advise that if it’s been more than 30 minutes and you feel wide-awake, you may have to tire yourself out by doing a low-key or tedious task around the house.

It’s best to turn off the lights and the TV or any electronic devices that may overstimulate you. Instead, “white noise” can be the soothing sound you need. Find a comfortable position, adjust the pillows and blankets, and while lying there, consciously relax, focus on your breathing. Adjust your air temperature; experts advise that the cooler the air, the better.

The Best Sleep Positions for Back Pain

For many, pain is the culprit of sleep deprivation. Back and spinal pain may be chronic or the result of an injury. Either way, it may prohibit you from getting comfortable at night. Additionally, nocturnal back pain or nighttime back pain can present itself as you lie in bed. You may have never felt discomfort during the day, but the pain exists when in bed.

For relief, you may try to find a position where you can relieve pain and support your spine. Generally, it’s not a good idea to sleep on your stomach because it affects the spine’s normal alignment.

If you are a back sleeper, raise your knees or place a pillow under them to relieve the pressure on the spine.

Side sleepers should place a firm, flat pillow between your knees, allowing your lower spine to align with your hips. Or use a lumbar support cushion or waist pillow under your waist for support.

If that doesn’t work, you may try stretches, planks, or yoga movements to relieve muscle pain. Applying heat can help, along with over-the-counter pain medication.

Often, people find that a medium-firm mattress can help, in addition to a flexible pillow for neck support.

Back and Neck Pain After Sleeping

If you are waking up with a stiff neck, it’s usually caused by laying in a funny position or making a sudden movement in your dreams, causing muscle strain or sprain. The solution is applying heat to relax the muscle and light neck movement to re-engage full rotation.

If any of the pain you experience is distressing or not healing in a reasonable period of time, it’s best to seek the advice of a pain management specialist from the National Spine & Pain Centers. Find a location near you to set up an appointment.

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