What Can You Do to Avoid “Sleeping Injuries”?

What Can You Do to Avoid “Sleeping Injuries”?

Back pains

image credit: Fotolia

In my previous post I introduced the idea of how ridiculously injured we can feel after a night of what was supposed to be regenerative sleep.  This is just one but a popular example of everyday pain.  This is the kind of pain that has us wondering: “What the heck did I do to myself?”

As I mentioned in that previous post, I believe that our mattresses and pillows only play a minor role for most of us.  When we are in a state of pain, the mattress and pillows do become paramount and if they are a wrong fit for us, they certainly don’t help the situation, but they are not the main reason we feel pain.  Neither to blame is our sleeping position necessarily.  Pain, plain and simple, is the result of inflammation.  (read a short excerpt from my book about this here) There are a host of things that can cause a build up of inflammation which then causes the experience of pain.

If you’re waking up with it, whether it’s a low grade ache or a sharp stabbing kind of thing, you can bet that inflammation is at play.  Your body is either dealing with a higher than usual level of inflammatory byproducts, or your nervous system was not able to allow your muscles to fully relax and disengage during your sleep.  The over-engagement by your muscles can cause inflammation to pool in those affected areas.  Again the result is pain because of inflammation.

So, maybe you don’t care why there’s pain you just want to know what you can do about it.  Take my word for it then when I say: to manage the pain you have to manage the inflammation triggers.

1. Stop eating your inflammation

2. Help your body get rid of inflammation

3. Keep Calm!

Eating your inflammation

In regards to waking with pain, what you eat right before bed probably matters most but in general if you struggle with pain that seems to come out of nowhere, you should probably consider taking inflammatory foods out of your diet on a regular basis.  There are a lot of resources available about inflammatory foods (sugars, starchy foods, alcohol and red meat for starters). Read a bit more about this in my next post

Get rid of it

If you’re in pain and you’re doing everything else right, it’s worth considering whether or not you are eliminating waste well.  Are you drinking enough water? Are you moving your bowels daily?  A slow-down in our naturally detoxifying activities of urinating and defecating can bog down the body’s ability to flush away pain causing molecules in the body tissues.  The byproducts of just living and breathing are molecules that will cause pain if left to accumulate so, even if you don’t have pain this is a good reason to pay attention to your elimination!

Keep Calm!

Finally, if you’re stressing about your pain or just stressed in general, it’s probably going to add to the pain and that’s not something that’s just “in your head”.  Stress causes the body to crank out all sorts of pain-causing chemical reactions.  If the nervous system is chronically on high alert, your body will be more likely to flare up with the littlest amount of stress and it can turn into a terrible snowball effect if you don’t tend to it.

Of course, if you’re thinking: “well, if I’m not getting quality sleep because of pain then I’m probably going to be more stressed until I get better sleep…”  You’re right.  It can turn into a vicious cycle. This is why it’s not always a terrible idea to take over the counter anti-inflammatory aids (pharmaceutical or herbal) before bedtime.  Sometimes breaking the pain cycle is more important than “toughing” it out.  There will be a future post about what sorts of herbs or nutrients might be just as effective as those common non steroidal anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals.

Don’t put up with it anymore

Some of the most difficult clinical cases I see are with people who have trained themselves to put up with pain on a regular basis.  They’ve taught themselves, physiologically, to be in pain and do it well.  This means it will take increasingly stressful situations to get their attention.  This may seem like a noble goal, but it just makes it so much more complicated to help the body return to a pain free state.  If the body learns not to listen to the usual warning signs the warning signs can go haywire and become unreliable or the body simply won’t know to respond to these warning signs.  Usually pain is just a big traffic sign – trying to show us what needs to change for better balance.

If pain from inflammation happens like how the last drop in a brimming bucket of water makes it spill over, then there are some things that can be going on behind the scenes that will fill our buckets to the brim and set us up to be less tolerant of certain everyday inflammatory triggers.  Two common examples I see are: the naturally inflammatory phase of the menstrual cycle and the 24 hour time span before we get sick with any garden variety upper respiratory virus.  Check out the future posts for more about this….

Have YOU Had a “Sleeping Injury”?

sleeping cat

photo credit Fotolia

No joke. Sleeping can seem like the most dangerous activity we do and especially for anyone who has ever had the experience of waking up with a “crick” in the neck.  More often than you would think, when people show up in my office with searing and immobilizing pain and I ask: “How did this happen?” I hear: “I don’t know, I just woke up with it like this!”.  It usually doesn’t have as much to do with the mattress or our sleeping position as we think.  These things are definitely factors but when everything is in balance, our body does a good job of tolerating suboptimal situations, for example, a softer than ideal mattress or a badly sized pillow. The main reason that we might wake in pain from doing nothing is because we either go to sleep with greater level of inflammation in our tissues than is manageable or we are unable to allow the muscles to completely relax while sleeping.

Quite a few years ago one of my patients showed up in my office complaining that she was feeling fine – no sign of pain or stiffness for months before now, and then she finds herself waking up from a dream in which she remembers vigorously and extensively re-arranging her living room furniture – so much so that the first thing she did was to look at her living room to see if she really did it.  Her furniture was exactly as she’d left it before bedtime, but now she found herself sore and stiff from head to toe but in particular she was feeling lower back pain as though she had been lifting something…

This is an example of how active our body can be when we think we are resting.  The neuroendocrine system is often simply behaving in response to our body chemistry and it’s not uncommon to sleep a full night and not feel physically rested because of an imbalance in our biochemistry that the body is trying unsuccessfully to remedy.

So, what can you do if this happens to you?  You probably will need some outside help correcting the resulting mechanical imbalance at play, but you will also need to address the reason this happened in the first place.  Sleeping positions are one of the hardest things to modify and because of how important sleep is over all else, I do not push my patients to make changes unless we’ve addressed the underlying biochemical issues first.

For a quick general overview of things that may need troubleshooting I can tell you that aside from mattress and pillow logistics here are some things that need further investigating:

1. What’s adding to your inflammatory load? (what are you eating or exposed to and how well are you eliminating?)

2. What’s keeping your muscles from relaxing? (how’s your stress, your electrolyte/mineral balance and water intake?)

3. How’s the temperature in your bedroom?  (too hot or too cold can cause the body to stay tense)

Check out my next post for an in depth look at all three factors and then some – to see how you can handle this situation and try to keep it from happening again.