Sleep doesn’t have to be elusive. (Photo: Istock/Yahoo)
A restful night of shut-eye can be next to impossible when you’re dealing with some sort of chronic pain or ailment. And depending on the way your body is positioned when you sleep, it can actually make your condition feel worse.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 15 percent of adults experience chronic pain, yet that number rises to more than 50 percent in the older population. And nearly two-thirds of these people report “poor or unrefreshing” sleep.
“Sleep and pain exist in a complicated relationship to one another,” sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, the host of the upcoming podcast Secrets to Sleep Success, tells Yahoo Health. “Pain — both chronic and acute — can interfere with sleep, making it harder to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Poor quality and insufficient sleep contribute to pain in several ways, decreasing tolerance for pain, increasing its intensity and discomfort, and in some cases raising the risk for the development of chronic-pain conditions.”
So just how should you sleep when something ails you? Breus explains how to take it lying down:
For the first sleep position, “imagine yourself in a bed that you can adjust, where you can raise the head and raise the feet, putting you in what is called a zero gravity position,” explains Breus. “By raising the legs at the knees, you can actually pull all the weight off the pelvis. And by increasing the height of torso between 17 and 20 degrees, you can absolutely neutralize any low back strain.”
For the second sleep position, Breus explains that it helps to rehydrate the disks in the back. “In between each of the bony spinous process [the bone you can feel when running your hand up and down your back] are disks, and you lose fluid from them every day,” he says. “They naturally rehydrate as you sleep, and the only way to rehydrate them is to have them in an open position.”
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“If you have upper back pain, or pain in the shoulder blades, using a flat pillow is critically important,” says Breus. “If your pillow contains too much stuffing, it will slowly push your chin towards your chest, which actually puts more strain on your upper back.”
“These special pillows — some people refer to them as wave pillows, others call them cervical pillows — have a form to them, which enables you to press up on the back of the neck to allow the head to slightly tip backward,” explains Breus.
Sleeping on the left side encourages the body to separate the lower esophageal sphincter from the stomach, decreasing the chances of uncontrollable backsplash of stomach acids, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Breus adds that an inclined sleep position (with the help of a triangular foam wedge) can also achieve this effect.
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