Getting enough sleep is essential to maintaining both your physical and mental health. How much sleep you should be getting varies from person to person, but as a general rule the NHS suggests that most adults need between six to eight hours a night, though children and babies may sleep longer than this and older adults less.
If you have persistent trouble getting to sleep you may be diagnosed with insomnia, a condition which is thought to regularly affect one in three adults at some point in their lives. If you have insomnia you may find you have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed the next day. While some people experience only short periods of insomnia which clear up on their own, for some the condition can continue for months on end. This can lead to a decrease in quality of life as it can limit what you are able to do, affect your mood and disrupt relationships.
If you think you have insomnia you should make an appointment with your GP for the best course of treatment, especially if you have been affected for a month or more. However, NHS advice suggests several practical ways that you can first try to get a good night’s rest.
Try to keep regular sleeping hours. This will programme your internal body clock to get used to a set routine and may help getting to sleep easier. Aim to pick a time that you feel naturally sleepy for the best results.
Create a relaxing and restful environment. The place where you sleep should be optimised in every way to ensure a restful night. Make sure your bed is comfortable and that the temperature, light and noise in the room is controlled. Like your environment, you should also relax your body as much as possible before trying to sleep – activities such as a warm bath, yoga or soothing music may help with this.
Write down your worries. Stress and anxiety is a common cause of insomnia, so writing down any stresses and worries that you are having before going to bed may ease your mind. Similarly writing a to-do list for the next day may stop you lying awake worrying.
Get regular exercise. Some moderate exercise can help relieve any tension that has built up over the day and help you sleep at night. Likewise, eating a healthy balanced diet and cutting out stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially just before bed, can also help combat insomnia.
Don’t nap during the day. Many people take naps during the day, and then cannot sleep at night. Avoid this by going for a walk if you feel tired during the day. Just some fresh air or gentle exercise will be enough to wake the body and mind up.
Sleeping with pain
Another common cause of insomnia is chronic pain. However, sticking to a regular sleeping routine is even more important in these cases, as the effects of sleep deprivation will only worsen any pain that is experienced.
If you suffer from back pain, there are several sleeping positions you can try that may relieve some pain. Try to sleep with your back in a neutral position that is neither overly arched or flat - this takes pressure off the spine. For example, if you are sleeping on your side, try placing a pillow between your knees to achieve this. Likewise, if you prefer to sleep on your back position a pillow under your knees and a smaller pillow, or a rolled-up towel under your lower back.
Pain Concern also suggests that insomnia as a result of chronic pain may also stem from other underlying conditions such as stress, anxiety or depression. While people often believe that insomnia cannot be tackled while pain is still present, research has shown that those affected by chronic pain also respond well to treatment for insomnia, despite ongoing pain.
Some things you can do to reduce stress and anxiety include; writing down worries, being more active, avoiding unhealthy habits and seeking support from family and friends. Depression is often characterised by feelings of helplessness, so taking control of your situation and becoming more educated about ideas surrounding pain and sleep is also a good first step.
Suffering with a physical pain is a common issue preventing a comfortable night’s sleep, says Tim Allardyce Clinical Director of Surrey Physio www.surreyphysio.co.uk. Shoulder, hip, back and neck pain are the most common joint/muscle related reasons why sleep may be disturbed. For example, a painful shoulder or hip will make it very difficult to lie on the affected side. Make sure you see a physiotherapist for treatment to alleviate your joint or muscle pain.