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I love bed! There is nothing better than snuggling up under the duvet being all warm and cosy. Or so I thought before I had a disc problem in my neck and the nights suddenly became very long, painful and the worst time of my day.
Commonly when we are in pain, keeping moving, in what ever fashion, is vital to avoid loading the sore bit and stiffening / tightening up. Once we stay still for too long the pain is often worse and so hard to get going again. That is why night times can be rubbish for many of us and anything but restful and restorative and mornings take ages to get going.
We know from this months challenge that getting a good 8 hours sleep is so important for our body, mind and soul. Sleep gives our body and mind time to recover, process and heal. Things even more important to do when we are in pain. Dealing with back pain is exhausting and many of us don’t realise just how tiring it is. It affects our mood, emotions and tolerance levels on every front. No wonder we get snappy and have little patience when we are in pain. This is all normal and what we hear everyday in the clinic. I can be testament to it too following my experiences with my back.
So, what can we do to avoid the long painful nights and help get the rest we need when we are sore or in pain in our back? Here are our Top 5 Tips for getting comfy in bed when you have back pain.
1: Take painkillers
I know that this goes against what many of you believe in and I want to be clear this is a temporary measure. If you get the right treatment you won’t be relying on these for ever. It’s a short term thing to help you. We can’t give advice as Physio’s on what painkillers to take but go and see a Pharmacist at the chemist or see your GP. Don’t assume there aren’t any other options if the first thing they give you doesn’t work or you get horrid side effects. There are plenty of other options so go back and get something different. I had 4 changes in painkillers before I got the right combination for me when I was at my worst.
Keeping the painful bit warm can have a good sedative and relaxing effect. Try having a hot bath or shower before getting in to bed. Alternatively you could get a wheat bag to heat in the microwave and place it around the painful area when you get in bed. Just make sure it isn’t so hot it will burn you! Large square ones are best to get the most coverage on your back (Fig. 1). You can keep them in place if on your side with a few spare pillows. Hot blankets can be good too but obviously require you to be on your back!
Fig.1: Back pain wheat bag
Note the stitching across the middle. This is really useful to prevent all the wheat slipping down one end!
If you would like to order one, Amazon have many different types available.
3: Give yourself pillow options!
You will be more wriggly in your sleep when are dealing with pain because this is the body’s way of keeping you moving, all be it in a very much slower way! Expect to change position regularly during the night. Avoid any position that may make you feel worse but read our Pillow Guide for more information on what to try and consider. Supporting your neck and trunk right can hugely influence your lower back.
Get several different types of pillow to give you options. One fairly firm, a thicker one, a thinner squashy one plus a towel or small blanket you can roll up and place in any area to support you.
4: Support your anatomy
Following on from above, consider each different position you could sleep in…
Most importantly, listen to your body. If you can get comfy in a particular position even if you think it is odd, just do it! It is just for the short term!
Fig 2: Alternative Tummy Lying Position
5: Distract yourself
Sometimes when you can’t get comfy it is easy to let your mind race. “I’m not sleeping, I’m so tired, I’m not sleeping”, “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleeeeeeeeep”, “Pain, pain, pain, ouch, ouch, ouch”, “I’m going to be so tired tomorrow, how will I cope with my day?”, “ If I go to sleep now I’m only going to get X hours. That isn’t enough”, “AGGGGHHHHHHH, brain be quiet, stop thinking”.
All these are common thoughts when you are in pain and can’t go to sleep. This is your brain ruminating, over and over again! Distraction can work marvels. Try listening to an audio book. A top tip here is make sure the narrator has a good relaxing voice. Think Stephen Fry’s melodious voice not Ruby Wax, although everyone prefers something different!
Alternatively, guided meditation in these instances can be super helpful. You know how well it works dealing with pain in child birth so lets use the same principles! If you can focus your mind on something else it can have hugely beneficial effects at lowering the intensity of your symptoms or your experience of them entirely.
There are many meditations on You Tube or other internet sites. It depends how spiritual you want to go! Best find one in the day time so you are ready for it instead of trying to search for one in the middle of the night. Quick note, if you are worried your audio will wake someone else up, get a pair of ear phones!
6: Mattress considerations
Everyone has different preferences regarding how firm or soft they like their mattress. The general rule of thumb is, the smaller and slighter you are the softer the mattress you require. The reason is that in side lying, you should sink into the mattress at your heaviest points (shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle) so that the spine can be supported in a straight line. If you don’t sink into your mattress at the points your spine sags down like a banana. To make a mattress a little softer you could try placing a spare duvet or two on top of your mattress to add a little more cushioning before investing in a more expensive topper.
Finally, if you still can’t get comfy get up and have a walk around to change your position. Once you’ve jiggled around for a bit it is then easier to get back to sleep. Even if your sleep is a bit broken, getting some is better than nothing. Likewise, take some more painkillers if you need to and use the heat again.
Important note, if you are getting any of the following it is definitely advisable to see your GP as there could be something more serious going on; Pins and needles in your legs or feet or experience numbness or loss of power, problems with your bladder or bowel function, numbness around your bottom region where you sit or issues with balance and walking.