DUBAI 21 September 2019: Waking up with a stiff neck or sharp back ache is often a result of poor sleeping posture. In most cases, people choose to ignore the pain, consider it normal and hop out of bed in the morning to go about their usual daily routine.
Experts, however, warn that when the neck or spine is constantly stressed, muscle spasms, stiff neck or a sprained back are the most likely outcomes, and can occur at any time.
Sleep expert Dominik Zunkovic, who is also the Founder of Whisper, said, “A good night’s sleep should help us feel rejuvenated when we wake up the next day. Feeling sore, stiff and unrested in the morning is not only inconvenient, it also takes a sharp toll on the human body, impairing motor ability, mood, and our ability to carry out the day’s planned activities. This makes it critical to take steps to achieve good posture while sleeping.”
Disrupted sleep can also exacerbate chronic ache problem noting that pain and sleep are closely linked and impact each other, this according to Dominik.
“There is ample evidence suggesting the pain-sleep connection. Those who don’t get enough sleep are more at risk of chronic pain syndromes, while people suffering from chronic pain often find it hard to sleep and their woes are compounded by insomnia and sleeping disorders. It can become a vicious cycle of pain interrupting sleep, and lack of sleep making the pain worse,” Dominik explained.
Defined as pain that lasts or recurs for more than three months, chronic pain – such as lower back pain, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Fibromyalgia – is a one of the most significant causes of suffering and disability worldwide, with reports estimating that about one in five, or around 1.5 billion people globally suffer from the disease. Chronic pain not only causes severe personal suffering to patients and their families but also brings additional costs to the economy.
Taking this into account, Dominik stressed the need for quality sleep as part of pain management. “Sleep loss increases the experience of pain and a new study by the University of California, Berkeley has confirmed this. Based on the research, sleep deprivation causes some neural glitches in the brain, triggering activity in the somatosensory cortex, which receives and reads pain signals, amplifying pain,” he said.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience early this year, also found that insufficient sleep causes decreased activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine, which increases pleasure and relieves pain. Sleep loss not only amplifies the pain-sensing regions in the brain but also blocks the natural analgesia centers, numbing the brain’s painkilling response.
“These findings only prove that deep, relaxing sleep is the best solution there is to address chronic pain. And while there are a number of ways to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep, it all starts with finding the right mattress and pillows that provide optimal body support whatever your sleep style is,” Dominik said.
Top tips for sleep hygiene
Who are these people who get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, and how do I become one of them? It’s a thought that’s often crossed my mind at 2 am while I’m scrolling through Instagram and simultaneously battling the to-do list in my mind, says Aakanksha Tangri, founder of Re:Set.
“Until recently, I was averaging three to four hours of sleep each night, and I could see the impact on my physical and mental well-being. My mind was foggy, my body fatigued constantly and I was cranky,” she adds.
She went to her therapist and was given a strict sleep hygiene regimen for a month. Here’s what worked for her:
Give up caffeine: I stopped caffeinating post 4 pm. Tough, but doable. My recommendation is to find something else caffeine-free you can drink instead. I turned to copious amounts of water which my skin thanked me for.
Incorporate regular exercise and find someone to hold you accountable: My therapist recommended regular exercise, and I started scheduling yoga classes either in the morning or evening. My instructor made sure I was held accountable, which helped immensely because it meant even if I didn’t want to show up, I had to or be bombarded by calls and messages. This helped establish a sense of routine, and we’re all well aware of the benefits of exercising, such as a reduction in stress levels and better sleep.
Switch it off: The hardest? Giving up electronics. From continually scrolling through social media to checking emails and replying to messages, being on the phone has become second nature for many. Ever searched for your phone while you’re on it? Yup, that was me. Three hours before bedtime, I had to get off all electronics which meant giving up Netflix as well. My phone went on aeroplane mode, and I gave my mother’s number to my close friends and family in case of an emergency. It’s only when you give up a bad habit, you realize how addicted you are. I put my phone out of hand’s reach, but there were many times when I cheated and turned it on even for a few minutes. You might experience “phantom vibrations” where you think your phone is buzzing or there are notifications. I occasionally still experience this, but the frequency has reduced.
Finally, for desperate measures, I decided to leave my phone near where my dog slept, which meant he’d wake up and start barking for attention if I went anywhere near him. Lack of electronics meant I had very little to do except read, try my hand at meditation and eventually drift off to sleep. I could also finally catch up on all those books I ambitiously bought, but never got around to reading.
Over time, it became easier to detach myself from my phone, and I was naturally falling asleep (first out of boredom and later out of routine) between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. This also meant I was waking up earlier and had more time in the morning to enjoy a cup of coffee, mentally prepare for the day, and cuddle with my dog. Much better than just rushing off to work. With sufficient sleep, I now find I’m more productive, in a better mood with more energy and efficient at managing my time. And dare I say, I’m actually quite proud of myself for finally nailing down my elusive sleep habits.
It’s going to take time, persistence and you will fall off the wagon, but build a support team who can keep you on track and don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself struggling. Give your body and mind time to adjust and ease into your sleep hygiene routine.