Did you know that 1 in 2 Canadians have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? This blog post will discuss how sleep has been impacted by the pandemic, why it's important, the link between sleep and pain, and practical strategies that can help you improve it.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep plays an important role in:
- Regulating emotions
- Processing memories
- Performing tasks
- Helping the brain recover from illness or disease
How has the pandemic changed sleep?
During the pandemic, many of us have noticed the following changes in our sleep:
- Shifted sleep and wake times
- Reduced sleep quality
- More early morning awakenings
Together, these factors can cause shifts in our sleep-wake cycle, contribute to decreased well being, and negatively impact our mood.
What is the link between sleep and pain?
Many of us know that pain can impact sleep, but did you know that the quality of our sleep can also impact our pain experience?
Poor sleep quality, short sleep times, and interrupted sleep can lead to increased sensitivity to pain the following day.
This increased sensitivity can be due to our body sending more danger signals when we are sleeping poorly.
People with chronic pain frequently report changes in:
- The time needed to fall asleep
- Increased frequency of waking up in the middle of the night
- Sleep quality
What can you do to have a better sleep?
Sleep issues arise because our body or environment tells us that we should be awake. We can adjust our environment or behaviours to promote better sleep.
It is important to try a few different strategies over time to see what works for you. If you continue to experience sleeplessness over a long period of time, please contact a health professional.
1. Manage your thoughts
Many of us find our thoughts wander at night and struggle to “turn our brain off." Did you know that our brain works to solve problems as we sleep?
That is where the term “sleep on it” came from. If we wait until the next day to problem solve, we will be more effective due to our brain working as we sleep. Try the strategy below to help manage your thoughts at night!
- Keep a notepad or pen and paper in your nightstand
- If you cannot sleep, write your thoughts down
- Dedicate time the following day to work through these thoughts and problem solve
- If these thoughts continue and cause you to lie awake, remind yourself that you have them written down and will address them tomorrow
2. Wake up at the same time everyday
Current research tells us that it is important to wake up at the same time. However, going to bed at the same time every night isn’t the most effective.
You may be wondering why the change? Researchers have found that we should go to bed when we are ready for sleeping.
- Set your alarm for the same time every morning
- Go to bed at the time you usually fall asleep
- For example: if you typically fall asleep at 1am, refrain from getting in bed at 10pm and instead go to bed at 1am
3.Try a body scan
This is a relaxation strategy that allows us to be aware of our body and calm our nervous system.
Tip: Pain Care for Life has a great 7-minute body scan that you can try.
4. Regulate your breath
What we do in a day impacts the way we sleep. It is important to incorporate breaks and calming the body throughout the day. Try regulating your breath to calm your body.
Tip: You can do this by making your breath longer, smoother and softer.
5. Create a night routine
It is helpful for us to develop a routine of doing the same activities before bed each night. This will become a habit and act as a signal to our body that we are winding down and getting ready for sleep. It is also important to limit screen time before bed as the blue light can disrupt our sleep-wake cycle.
- Create a relaxing evening routine such as taking a hot bath or shower, listening to calming music, or engaging in a body scan or breathing exercise
- Try a blue light filter on your device
6. Change your nap duration
Many people like to take naps when they are tired, but if we take naps that are too long it can lead to increased daytime drowsiness.
- Limit naps to 20 minutes
- Instead of napping, try getting some sunlight or engage in some light activity such as a walk
7. Improve your sleep environment
Did you know that cold temperatures can signal our body that it's time for sleep and help us stay asleep? By sleeping in an environment that is too hot we disrupt this process.
It is also important to reduce light in our bedroom in preparation for sleep and throughout the night. Intermittent noise can be disruptive to our sleep by causing more awakenings throughout the night and interfering with our sleep stages.
- Turn down your heat at night or sleep with a fan to cool down your bedroom
- Use blackout curtains or an eye mask to reduce light
- Use ear plugs, a fan, a sound machine or a white noise cell phone app to reduce noise
Sleep issues are very common and can be influenced by a variety of factors such as but not limited to pain, the pandemic or other unforeseen circumstances, or your sleep environment.
The good news is that there are things we can do to have a better night's sleep. Try integrating a few of the strategies mentioned above into your sleep routine.
If these strategies don’t work for you, an occupational therapist may help you devise some new strategies to get your sleep back on track. Learn more about occupational therapy services at Lifemark.
This blog was written by Hailey Muir, a 2nd year occupational therapy student at Queen’s University.