SLEEP! Believe it or not, this is one of the most common topics of conversation in Physical Therapy. “I can’t sleep because of my pain,” “I can’t fall asleep,” “I can’t stay asleep,” “I have too much on my mind,” “I’ve never been a good sleeper.” Any of this sound familiar? I’ll bet $100 that for at least half of you reading this, you can relate.
Why is sleep so important? Sleep helps your body and brain recover and refresh. It helps keep your energy and your mood up. Without adequate sleep, you’re much more prone to injury and pain, anxiety and depression, weight gain, disease, and overall lethargy and lack of motivation.
Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe healthy sleep habits. These sleep hygiene measures are taken directly from Stanford University medical center and they are all worth trying:
Try to maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule. It is particularly important to get up at about the same time every day.
Avoid afternoon or evening napping if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night.
Allow yourself enough time in bed for adequate sleep duration (e.g. 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM). Don't spend excessive time in bed hoping to get more sleep. Avoid forcing sleep. If you are unable to sleep for more than 15 minutes in bed, leave the room and read quietly in the other room until you feel the urge to sleep and then return to your bed.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening. Avoid smoking, especially in the evening.
Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don't do homework, watch television, or pay bills in bed.
Avoid stressful activities at bedtime. Develop a relaxing and enjoyable routine prior to retiring to bed. (e.g., reading, television).
Minimize annoying noise, light, or temperature extremes.
Consider a light snack before bedtime. Avoid heavy meals too close to bedtime, since this may interfere with sleep.
Regular exercise in the late afternoon may deepen sleep. Vigorous exercise within 3-4 hours of bedtime may interfere with sleep.
Don't try harder and harder to fall asleep. If you are unable to sleep, do something else instead.
Minimize noise, light and excessive temperatures during sleep periods. Move the alarm clock away from the bed if it is a source of distraction.
To make any measurable changes to the quality of your sleep, you really have to be willing to give these sleep hygiene tips a try. I talk to many patients who state "I can't sleep," but are unwilling to try several of the suggestions above. So for a few days, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and really commit to trying these sleep hygiene techniques. It may take a week or so of these changes to start noticing measurable improvements.
If you can't sleep due to pain, you should be seeing a Physical Therapist. One of the more common goals patients state for coming in for Therapy is "I want you to stop this pain so I can get more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night." And 9.9/10 times, this is achieved with Physical Therapy alone. But you should also try different sleep positions. Perhaps lying on your back with a pillow under your knees. Or lying on your side with a pillow between the knees.
If you feel you are in bed for a long time and getting some sleep, but still feel exhausted and lethargic, you should speak to your Primary Care Physician about getting a sleep study done. These can now be done at home and can be used to diagnose sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is an underdiagnosed condition that can lead to fatigue, poor sleep, and poor overall health. Learn more about sleep apnea here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/symptoms-causes/syc-20377631
If you've tried all the tips above and still can't sleep, you should consider Photobiomodulation (PBM) Therapy. Our Theralight 360 light bed uses specific wavelengths of light in the red and near-infrared spectrums that have been shown to help people get to sleep faster, sleep longer, and get better quality of sleep. You can learn more here https://www.theralight.com/sleep-better-improve-mood-with-light-therapy/ If you would like a free phone or in-person consultation to find out if PBM therapy is right for you, click the link here: https://www.thegrpt.com/events-and-offers We have several patients who currently use PBM therapy to help with sleep with great results. We also have several patients who used our PBM to jump-start their system to get better and deeper sleep more consistently, and were successfully able to completely wean themselves off of light therapy and maintain healthy sleep without any issues on their own (most people start 2-3 times per week in the light bed).
In summary, sleep is very important and very essential to your health and healing. I hope some of the information and advice above can be of help to you if you're struggling to get good sleep.
In good health,
Dr. Ashley Bertorelli, Physical Therapist and Founder of The Green Room Physical Therapy