Bedtime Tips for People Who Suffer from Back Pain

Photo by:  Romina Farias  on  Unsplash

Photo by: Romina Farias on Unsplash

GUEST AUTHOR: Cheryl Conklin

According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide. Back pain affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Since the back, neck, and spine all contain complex systems of bones, joints, ligaments, discs, and muscles, the causes of back pain are varied and sometimes hard to pinpoint. Back pain can be due to sprained muscles or ligaments, sports injuries, arthritis, inflammation, and psychological stress. 

Back pain can impede life in many ways, but one of the most damaging is sleep deprivation. Persistent back pain can make it difficult for people to fall asleep. Even if they manage to fall asleep, the quality of the rest can be disturbed by tossing and turning related to the discomfort. Sleep deprivation can make back pain worse, but the negative effects don’t end there. Not getting enough sleep makes it substantially more difficult to function the next day, as you are prone to experience cognitive issues including memory loss, moodiness, increased clumsiness, brain fog, reduced balance, and a weakened immune system. Furthermore, sleep deprivation raises your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. 

As with any medical problem, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your chronic pain and sleep problems. There could be a serious issue that’s causing both issues, and your physician can recommend treatments and/or therapies to alleviate this troublesome situation. However, if you’re on Medicare, it’s important to determine if therapies and treatments are covered, so check your coverage beforehand. If you’re having difficulty navigating the website, there are online guides and resources that can make finding the info you need a little easier.

How to Sleep Better with Back Pain

Take It Easy on Yourself

If you spend all day doing strenuous work, you’ll never give yourself a chance to heal. And while it’s often difficult to avoid certain tasks, you can find ways to take some of the burdens off your shoulders. For instance, instead of coming home from work and immediately diving into a full evening’s worth of cleaning, try to spread those tasks throughout the week. And if you discover that’s still a little too much for your back to bear, hiring a cleaning service to attack the problem. In East Greenwich, Rhode Island, a maid service costs around $125 and $228 per cleaning, so it’s easy to fit into your budget, even if you only take advantage of these services every so often.

Reduce Joint Inflammation 

You are what you eat. If you’re eating a bunch of salt, sugar, and saturated fat, you are likely a bloated ball of pain plagued with inflammation. Adjusting your diet is one of the best things you can do to reduce back pain. Certain whole foods can actually alleviate joint pain while supporting healthy muscle development. To alleviate back pain at night, fill your daily diet with healthy-joints foods, like cruciferous vegetables and vitamin C-packed fruits like pineapple, mango, kiwi, and oranges.

Strengthen Your Core

Your core muscles make up the bulk of your abdominals and back, and play a critical role in supporting your spine. Your core muscles likely don’t get a good workout during the day-- especially if you spend your time sitting behind a desk or wheel. Everyone needs to exercise for better sleep, but if you suffer from back pain, it’s even more important to focus on strengthening your core muscles when you work out. Include 20 to 30 minutes of core-strengthening exercises into your daily routine, and consider other ways to strengthen it throughout the day, such as switching out your desk chair for an exercise ball for 30-minute intervals during your workday. 

Switch Your Sleep Position 

If you suffer from lower back pain, certain sleep positions can help relieve the pressure put on that area of the body for less pain. 

  • Sleep on your side with a pillow placed between the knees

  • Sleep on your side with knees pulled to the chest in a fetal position

  • Sleep on your stomach with an extra pillow under the abdomen

  • Sleep on your back with a pillow wedged under the knees (you can buy one for $29.95)

  • Sleep on your back in a reclined position enabled by an adjustable bed

The sleep position that is best for you depends on what relieves the most lower back pressure. Make sure to keep proper spinal alignment when adjusting your sleep position by aligning your ears, shoulders, and hips on top of each other. When looking for pillows, choose firmness that correlates with your particular sleep position. Back sleepers benefit from thinner pillows and models with more padding at the neck. Side sleepers do best with a very firm pillow with an extra-wide gusset that creates space between the ear and shoulder. Stomach sleepers should aim to use the thinnest pillow possible or no pillow at all. 

Back pain affects millions of people and commonly contributes to sleep deprivation. Not only does a lack of sleep make back pain worse, but it also manifests in other mental and physical ailments. A healthy diet reduces inflammation for less back pain at night, while core exercises support a strong spine for less pain every day. Furthermore, the right sleep position and pillow can relieve back pressure, making it easier to fall asleep. 

Ms. Conklin created because she believes one can’t have physical health without mental health and vice versa.

Becoming FULL-Filled

It had been a long day that started early with getting four kids up and out the door to school, then getting ready myself and literally running out the door to the office. The day continued with client appointments, phone calls, returned e-mails, progress notes, wrapping up at the office then back home to get kids off the bus, run kids around to their prospective activities, overseeing homework was complete, dinner and then time to get all the kids to bed at a decent time. I know I’m not alone with this type of schedule. All of my girlfriends are in the same cycle it seems.

By the time I sat down that night after I had cleaned up, I decided I really wanted something sweet. Now I have a daughter that has a milk sensitivity, so there was a pint of Ben & Jerry’s PB & Cookies non-dairy dessert in the freezer. My body was still running on adrenaline, so I sprinted over to the freezer, found the PB & Cookies, scooped out about a third (ok maybe a half) and sat down with my laptop. Because it tasted SO GOOD, I ate it about as fast as I did everything that day. In time-lapse mode. And then, it happened. I hit a wall. A very hard concrete wall. Head on. Going 90mph. I remember thinking that I felt like I was sinking into a coma. I felt sick to my stomach and I just wanted to lie down. Which I did. I closed my eyes and fell asleep. I woke up a couple of hours later, dragged myself up the stairs to bed and somehow remembered to set my alarm. When my alarm went off at 6:30am the next morning, I felt like I had a hangover. My brain was fuzzy and my temples pounding, my stomach hurt, my body was slow to get out of bed. I had no motivation to get four kids out of bed, and on top of that, I was cranky.

The next night, the other two-third’s (or was it half?) of the Ben & Jerry’s was still in the freezer. But when I thought about it, I immediately recoiled, remembering my coma-like state, the stomach ache and the awful carb hangover. The thought of Ben & Jerry’s was making me ill before I had even put another spoonful in my mouth. I realized how easily food can be a drug to us. Whether we need to slow our brains and bodies down at the end of an adrenaline-filled day, or whether we use food to calm our anxieties. In my case, I had used food as a depressant. To slow and calm my brain and body. On the other hand, caffeine, refined carbohydrates, including sugar, can act as short-term stimulants when we need energy pick-me ups or when we are feeling tired, sad or depressed. I have yet to find someone who has broccoli or spinach cravings when they are upset about something.

As I continued to process my Ben & Jerry’s “coma”, I thought how I needed to really re-evaluate my adrenaline-filled days. I have four children between the ages of nine and fourteen, so no doubt adrenaline will fill my daily life here and there. But on a continual basis, twenty-four/seven, I must take personal responsibility for that. And make some healthy changes.

So I came up with a plan. I’m a terrible planner on a day-to-day basis. But I am a great planner in terms of self-improvement. If there is a problem, I will come up with a plan to fix it. Being stagnant is not an option. So here is what I came up with for my plan:

PROBLEM: Running around like a crazy woman. I was in a chronic state of heightened adrenaline. I needed to reset on a physiological level. I had been skipping my workouts to try to fit in more patients. Running and classes at the gym had always been a part of my routine, and now they were getting pushed out of my schedule. Both my brain and my body were unregulated and suffering. I know that in this continued state, not only is my body being flooded with cortisol and other stress hormones, but that this also leads to inflammation. Not only will I eventually burn out my adrenal system and hit a more permanent coma state, but I am also increasing my risk for turning on genes within my body that could change my life forever. This could mean a new diagnosis or condition that I will have to manage the rest of my life. NOT worth it!

SOLUTION: Schedule runs and group exercise classes. I took my calendar and blocked out times for my exercise, just like I would block out a time for a doctor’s appointment, for a patient or for one of my children’s games. It was time to re-prioritize my health.

PROBLEM: Energy levels (and likely blood glucose levels) all over the place. I know what it takes to balance energy, blood glucose and subsequent insulin levels, yet I wasn’t practicing what I preach. I wouldn’t schedule a lunch for myself, or I would get caught up in writing a progress note or calling back a patient and forget to eat. Before I knew it, my next patient was ready to be seen and I hadn’t eaten anything in five, six or seven hours. I know on the deepest level that is a no-no. Sigh.

SOLUTION: Nourish my body with the macronutrients and micronutrients that I need, when I need them. I started doing (again) exactly what I tell my patients. I reset my eating habits. I purchased and had readily available healthy snacks at my office that I needed and scheduled time for lunch again. I have also been better about keeping healthy leftovers for lunch the next day, so I can eat lunch at my desk while I write my progress notes or return emails.

PROBLEM: Being Un-Full-Filled. I wrote it that way for a reason, Un-Full-Filled. Often I see that we (myself included) are using food to fill us up. And it can be at the root of beating the battle of obesity and weight-related diseases. It can be on the other end of the spectrum as well. Denying ourselves food and nourishment, to obtain control as with eating disorders or with extreme diets where we are starving or depriving ourselves in order to achieve “success”. I believe there is an epidemic of food addiction/obsession in our country. I will give our failing food industry most of the credit here. However, I will also make sure to credit the devastating food addiction epidemic. We are using food to fill us up. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

SOLUTION: Reprioritize my spiritual and emotional health. I am happiest in my life when things are in balance. I am a Libra. The woman holding the scales. I’m not sure how much credibility I give to astrological signs, but in this case it’s true for me. I need to have space for myself (time and brain space). This means my day can be busy with work and kids, but I can handle those things well if I have my priorities in check. For me, that means my mind, body, and spirit are all being filled with good, healthy things. In my experience, this comes in the form of prayer, listening to music, being silent in nature, or connecting with a stranger or a friend or family member on a spiritual level. My days are often full of challenges and sometimes even painful ones, but if I am connected spiritually, then it is always a good day. I do believe we are spiritual beings having a physical, human experience. When I am able to keep this perspective, I am spiritually filled. I am Full-Filled.

How are you FULL-filled? What is it that makes you feel centered and balanced? Do you find that you are using food or other substances to “fill” up a part of you that needs to be filled up in other ways? If so, write down what the problems are. And then start thinking about the solutions. Then, comes action. It’s worth it. Things will start to fall into place when we prioritize our spiritual health. This is an important piece is self-care that often gets neglected. I believe it is at the foundation of our entire well-being. Make becoming FULL-filled a priority in your life. Aaaaaaaaaannnnd GO!