Overcoming Sleep Challenges and Discomfort

By: Brian Rog and Todd Sayer, PT, MBA for ATI Physical Therapy

Overcoming Sleep Challenges and Discomfort

When a night’s rest leads to a subsequent day of non-resolved misery and pain, your body is desperately trying to tell you something. For one in three Americans, post-sleep pain is relentless in disrupting performance and amplifying stresses beyond adaptable control. How you sleep dictates how you perform, so whether you are falling short on logging enough sleep each night or poor sleep posture is inhibiting a solid day’s performance, making a few simple changes can help to enable a good night’s rest and support your body’s ability to adapt and adjust.

Time’s effect on the body

The residual effects of a daylight saving transition or other time-altering endeavors can be challenging adjustments for many. The truth is, when our body’s natural functioning tendencies are thrown off sync, the outcomes lead to struggles in performance and emotional balance. Getting your body’s sleep cycle back on track will require some consistency in your daily routine. This period of adjustment is said to take a week or two. While it’s difficult to dodge the hurdles a change in time presents, simple tunings will help to enable the body to manage the transition more effectively.

What can be done to adapt to a change in sleep cycles?

Like everything else, the healthier you are, the easier it becomes having to adapt to drastic variations in your environment and lifestyle. For factors such as daylight saving or other variables affecting external time cues, such as traveling across time zones, preparation is key – whether that means going to sleep earlier/later or restructuring your environment (noise, light, temperature, etc.). Another way to better plan and adjust to a change in sleep cycle is to exercise on a consistent basis (or regularly, if consistency isn’t an option). Exercise is one of the best ways to get your body’s circadian rhythm back on sync as it aids in supporting adaptation levels in the muscles and helps refresh the immune system.

How to improve a night’s sleep

A sufficient night’s rest gives the body an opportunity to heal itself from a hard day’s work. Incorporating a few simple but important strategies and tips can go a long way in getting the results you need to dock a good night’s rest and leave you feeling energized and mentally sharp. We recommend reviewing and incorporating these tips into your nightly routine:

Use pillows for support

Pillows help to neutralize and support position by filling the space that has a tendency to displace joints from non-neutral positions. When used properly, your pillow will help to alleviate and even prevent consequential back and neck pain as well as many other levels of joint pain. When considering the types of pillows to use, we suggest cervical pillows as they allow for the neck to be supported in the neutral anatomical sleeping position while on your back or side. It’s also important to ensure your pillow fully supports your head by filling the negative space from your head and neck down to the mattress at a height that allows for the spine to maintain this neutral alignment.

Position joints in neutral alignment

Sleep positions play a key role in neutralizing your joints. But if you aren’t following the expert-recommended sleeping positions, the potential long-term damage to your body and health is significantly increased. Regardless of your position of choice, you must ALWAYS make certain that maintaining alignment of your spine remains one of the most important variables in the mix. Which of these positions are your go-to?

Sleeping on your back

Known to be the ideal position, sleeping on your back with a pillow supported underneath your thighs allows your head, neck and back to settle in the best neutral and natural position. When it comes to arm positioning, comfort preferences dictate what’s best, but ultimately, it’s recommended you keep arms at your side. Back sleeping helps to also fight acid reflux, just be sure to use a pillow that supports and slightly elevates your head to a position where your stomach is below the esophagus so food or acid can’t funnel up.

Sleeping on your side

Though not recommended, side sleeping, which is one of the more commonly used positions, is an acceptable alternative to back sleeping since it helps to elongate your spine. The best thing you can do when sleeping on your side is add a thick and firm pillow underneath the rib cage/torso to fill the space between your hips and shoulders. This will help to alleviate compression from the downside shoulder. Doing this may also help to eliminate a contributing variable to the development of shoulder dysfunctions.

Sleeping on your stomach

If you can, avoid this position at all costs. The only value stomach sleeping provides is lessening the likelihood of snoring. Stomach sleeping is extremely taxing and counterbalancing on the back, spine and neck. Since most of our weight is in the middle of the body, stomach sleeping makes it difficult for your spine to sustain a neutral position. As for the neck, most stomach sleepers turn their head to the side to breathe, so by doing this, the head and spine are forced out of alignment and can lead to serious damage down the road. And for those of you experiencing that ‘numbness’ feeling in your hands and arms, this might be a result of constricted blood flow and compressed nerves, so consider other positions to avoid this.  Compression/sustainment on any joint for a long period of time also inhibits the body’s ability to repair itself on a nightly basis as nutrient-rich fluids are not transferred as freely. This can lead to premature stages of arthritis.

If you are among the 17 percenters unable to break away from stomach sleeping, consider using a flat pillow to reduce the angling of your neck. We also recommend sleeping with a pillow under the abdomen to take some of the pressure off of your back and spine.

Ensure your structure is supported throughout

As we mentioned, maintaining proper alignment of your spine is by far one of the most important things you can do for your body. But how can you tell if your approach is effective? It’s simple; fill spaces and gaps to help neutralize and support sleep positions. Doing this will help to preserve body alignment and relieve any pressure.

The good and the bad

Like most things in life, desired outcomes rest on the amount of effort you put in. When it comes to sleep and your daily habits, if you are willing to make a few simple changes – whether it be avoiding your phone or electronics before bedtime – or looking after your sleep posture, you’ll be doing your body much good in the long run. Though interruptions in your sleep routine may not seem like a big deal, its lasting effect on your well-being can be troublesome.

If aches and pains follow you through the day, it’s time to take action. Get in touch with one of our experts to setup a complimentary screening at your nearest ATI clinic or call (855) MY-ATIPT.

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