As promised, here is the second section on the group of health topics: eat well, sleep well, move well.
Sleep research is not new. We all know how important sleep is, but I have really enjoyed how the process is explained in the book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker, PhD.
The basics of both the book and sleep research in general is that sleep is when our bodies regenerate. If you are working on healing, this daily regenerative stage is critical. More importantly, if you have a condition that is worsened by stress or anxiety, lack of sleep can delay healing, or at best, slow progress. Pain, specifically pelvic pain is one of these conditions.
If your body never regenerates fully, you can wake up with your instincts knowing that you are not at the top your game. This can increase the sensitivity of other senses, anxiety, and the fight or flight response. Think about instincts in this way: if your body knows you are the sick and slow one at the back of the pack, you will be less relaxed, and use more energy for the guarding and protective state in case of danger. Survival instincts are increased. If the body is in survival, it is poor at healing. If you are strong, healthy, and confident, there is less to worry about. Of course this is a very basic application of animal instinct that may or may not apply to each person’s healing journey, but we all feel a step behind when we haven’t slept well.
Sleep balances our hormones and energy levels. Interrupted sleep, or difficulty getting there is interfering with this balancing process.
What to do about it?
Practice good “sleep hygiene”
- Practice relaxation techniques before bed. There are endless resources and apps that can guide you through progressive muscle relaxation to calm both the body and the mind. I find it helpful to have something guided to keep the mind from wandering away. My personal favorite that I recommend to most patients is the app Headspace. There is a free and a paid version. Both are great.
- Turn of all back-lit devices at least an hour before bed. These lights are comparable to the lights used for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is a bad idea to stimulate the brain when you are trying to turn it off.
- Keep activities besides sleep or sex out of the bed. If reading helps, read in a chair, then get into bed when you feel tired. Don’t hang out or watch TV there (TV is a back-lit device)
- Follow a routine of bed time, which generally means you have to set more strict limits and boundaries, including maybe saying no to things that will keep you up late
- Be honest about what kind of sleep your body needs. Some people can be fine with 6 hours, some are 9. If you are a 9 and getting 6, you’re going to constantly feel tired.
- Keep fluids to an hour before bed (don’t dehydrate yourself, just get it in earlier). This includes alcohol, as it tends to wake you about 4 hr after consumption.
- If pain is keeping you up, see your physical therapist. We can discuss body positioning, pillows, etc. If your pillow is creating neck pain, you won’t sleep well. If your bladder wakes you up multiple times, you need techniques to address this so you aren’t getting out of bed. If you are over 40, it is fairly normal to get up once, other than that, you should be able to sleep through the night. If your bladder keeps you up, again, seek a qualified physical therapist.
- Address your partner’s issues. If your partner’s snores wake you, or if you have a partner who kicks, or fights for covers, you may be thinking you are sleeping well, but are not fully in a deep sleep due to being “on edge”.
- As most parents would agree, children can frequently be an issue as well. For infants, get a good video monitor that can be turned up loud enough to wake you if you need to, or get a sleep monitor to attach to the baby of you are worried about breathing or reflux. Keep your monitor for older children too. That way, you can check a noise without getting out of bed unnecessarily, making it easier to get back to sleep. This is hard with younger children, you may just have to do what you can for a while.
- Get your animals out of your bed unless they are small, remain still, and don’t bother you. Get real here. Many of us like the idea of how nice it is to sleep with our animals, but it’s a bad idea if you have sleep trouble.
- See a sleep specialist if you’ve consistently tried all of these things to see if you have any medical conditions, medication contribution, or need additional resources.
Bottom line: Everything we try to do to promote healing and well being will be slower, more difficult, or you may not fully reach your potential if you don’t sleep well. If we don’t fully sleep, we don’t fully heal.
This is a difficult pattern to get into, but critical for your health. You won’t be sorry once you start to feel better. We can discuss all of your sleep hygiene factors that may be interfering or assisting with your healing as part of your treatment program. We want to cover every opportunity to be successful and feel well.
Contact us for help and make sure to tell your therapist about your sleep patterns.