Pain is the reason many people have a hard time sleeping. And the lack of sleep seems to make the pain worse!
“Pain and sleep are integrally connected,” said David Neumeyer, MD, the associate director of the Sleep Disorder Center at theLahey Clinic Medical Center in Burlington, Mass. “Chronic pain is very common in the population and even more common in people who have poor sleep, and it sort of becomes a vicious cycle.”
Too little, or low-quality, sleep can affect the immune system, increase stress, strain relationships, dampen your performance at work, and a lot of other stuff like what’s shown in this graphic, via the Huffington Post:
So, how do you decrease the pain?
Related Graphic: Right Side of the Bed: How to Sleep With Less Pain [Infographic]
Related Article: 3 Quick and Proven Stiff Neck Remedies
Here, we will look at five common sleep-pain areas (or hot spots) and a few ways you can remedy the problem.
Hot Spot #1: Neck Pain
You know the feeling. You wake up hardly able to move your neck. It takes a few minutes, maybe even a few hours to get the crick out and start feeling normal again. Maybe you never can quite get rid of that neck pain.
This is a common problem for most sleepers, although some suffer more than others. Try these simple sleep solutions to ease the pain and perhaps get rid of it all together.
- Sleep with a Cervical Pillow (or just a thinner pillow!). Cervical or orthopedic pillows have contours designed to support the head and neck. These pillows have gentle humps that cradle your head and support your neck so it stays in alignment with the spine while you sleep. Or, if you sleep on a thick pillow, try something thinner. A thinner pillow will help align your neck and spine better.
- Sleep on Your Back. Stomach sleepers have the biggest problem with neck pain because their neck is often propped up or twisted and doesn’t properly line up with their spine. If neck pain is a real concern, try sleeping on your back with a medium-sized pillow that can provide some neck support to relieve some of that pain.
- Try Using a Towel. If you aren’t sure about the cause of your neck pain or want to try the support solution before investing in a cervical pillow, try sleeping with a rolled-up towel underneath your neck. You may be surprised at what a difference it can make in the morning.
Hotspot #2: Shoulder Pain
Side sleepers are most affected by this pain hot spot. Studies have shown, not only is sleeping on one’s side the most popular sleeping position, most individuals have one side in particular that they prefer to sleep on. This results in one constantly getting forced into unnatural positions, resulting in stiffness and shoulder pain when the sun comes up.
Good news, however, shoulder pain is usually fairly easy to relieve.
- Avoid Sleeping on Your Shoulder! This one is obvious, right? Since most people prefer one shoulder over the other, a lot of their shoulder pain can be relieved by simply giving that shoulder a break. Try creating a block on the side you usually sleep to train your body to stay centered. Although it may take some getting used to, your body can adjust and hopefully you’ll be free of shoulder pain for good.
- Stretch it Out. Chronic shoulder pain can come from tense muscles that have tightened over time. Try doing yoga or find specific shoulder stretches to relieve some of that tension. You can also alternate between ice and a hot pad to reduce intense pain in the morning.
- Build Muscle. Shoulder pain can often be caused by restricted blood flow during sleep. This makes stretching extra important, but building up the muscles in your shoulder can also improve blood flow and reduce pain around your shoulder joint.
Hotspot #3: Back Pain
Experts say that anywhere from 60-80% of the U.S. population is experiencing lower back pain at any given time, and it’s the second most common reason people head to the doctor’s office!
Lower back pain caused by sleep is a very real issue for many Americans, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of measures you can take to relieve lower back pain when sleeping. Try following these simple steps:
- Get a Good Mattress! The mattress you sleep on has so much to do with the quality of sleep you get. If you regularly experience back pain after some shut eye, it might be time to invest in a new bed. Make sure you find something the offers support for your neck, shoulders and hips, while also reducing pressure around your lower back.
- This will help align your spine while you sleep and relieve some of that pain, if not all of it. Purple was created for this reason! See the mattress technology here.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight. Founder of the Department of Homeopathic Medicine at New York University and licensed chiropractor, Lauri Grossman, says, “People who wrestle with back pain for a lifetime, if they lose a few pounds, often they find that the pain that they’ve taken a million medicines for and a million vitamins for—often that just goes away.” Try shedding a few pounds and see if your back pain decreases.
- Align Your Spine. Stomach sleepers who suffer from lower back pain may just need to do a simple exercise to realign their spine. Certified strength and conditioning specialist, Bret Contreras, calls it a posterior pelvic tilting action. Right when you lie down, lift your body upward and squeeze the glutes as hard as possible, then relax. The stretch can help set the spine in a more neutral position, keeping those posterior elements from jamming together and causing you pain. Here’s a video to explain:
Hotspot #4: Sleep Apnea
You might not initially think of sleep apnea as a pain hot spot, but it’s a very serious sleeping condition that can have grave consequences if left untreated.
There is a difference between sleep apnea and normal snoring. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep. Breathing pauses typically last anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds and can happen hundreds of times a night, jolting you out of your natural sleep cycles.
Besides keeping your sleeping partner up, sleep apnea also causes the sufferer to get less restorative sleep as the frequent jolts result in light, low-quality rest. This can result in less energy during the day, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and increased risk of accidents.
If sleep apnea is interrupting your life, try a few of these remedies. You should also consult your physician and see if the condition requires more intense treatment.
- Roll Over. While we recommend back sleeping for spinal alignment, it can cause airways to be obstructed during sleep for some people. This can easily be remedied by the sleeper rolling over on their side. If sleeping on your back is a problem, you can try sewing a tennis ball onto the back of your pajama top to gently remind you to stay to your side while sleeping.
- Drop Your Vices. Simply avoiding alcohol before bed, cutting out smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight can improve your sleep apnea symptoms. Plus, these habits are good for your health anyways, so it’s a win-win getting rid of a few unhealthy vices!
- Find Alternative Devices. The common cure for sleep apnea is a large breathing device called a CPAP, but the intrusive machine doesn’t work for many sleep apnea sufferers. Luckily, there are a number of alternative devices from oral appliances to the game-changing Provent sleep apnea therapy that have helped thousands, maybe millions, of people finally get a good night’s sleep.
Hotspot #5: Acid Reflux
Millions of Americans suffer from disrupted sleep and wake up with a bitter taste in their mouth, a chronic cough, sore throat, and fatigue, all because of acid reflux.
This sleep stealer goes by many names — acid reflux, nighttime heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — and affects nearly 4/5 heartburn sufferers. Although nighttime heartburn is a serious condition, it can be managed.
Try these bedtime tricks to improve your evening acid reflux and talk to your doctor about medications and alternative diets that can help relieve your chest pain.
- Turn to the Left. Dr. David A. Johnson, internal medicine division chief at Eastern Virginia School of Medicine, says that sleeping on one’s left side seems to reduce nighttime heartburn symptoms for most patients.
- Prop up Your Bed. Elevating your chest can help relieve nighttime heartburn, so try sleeping with a few pillows under your chest or prop the headboard of your bed up using a few bricks to give your bed a downward slant.
- Modify Your Diet. Certain foods can cause acid reflux for some people. Although this differs from person to person, try avoiding certain trigger foods such as dairy, spicy, and acidic foods. You should also avoid beverages that typically interrupt sleep such as alcohol, coffee, and soda before bed.