Sleep Well

Wellness Concept

Sleep Well

From the Healing Bridge Physical Therapy

February 2011 Wellness Notes

By Allison Suran, PT, GCFP

Founder, Healing Bridge Physical Therapy

“Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Many of us remember these words whispered to us when we were children. But now that we are adults, the last thing we want to feel, as we try to drift off to sleep, is “tight”! After a long day of work, errands, caring for the family, fixing dinner, our brains and our bodies often feel TOO “tight” to let us drift comfortably off to sleep. Yet, we know that the relief that sleep brings is just what we need if we want to be fresh for another busy day of life!

How do you relax into sleep when challenged by physical pain, or mental “busy-ness”? How do you just “turn off” the pain or the unending thoughts that are preventing you from falling into much longed for slumber? Even after trying to count sheep, or breaths, or finding a comfortable position to rest in, it can often be challenging to receive the benefit of a deep, relaxing, and rejuvenating sleep.

Many people don’t realize that there are many opportunities to take rests or breaks during the day. When there is such an opportunity, most people don’t know how to use that time to their benefit, because they are so used to letting their thoughts think them into the next event of the day, or feel consumed by the pain in their body.

Take driving, for example. Sitting in your car is a perfect opportunity to take a few relaxing, unwinding breaths. While listening to music, whether you enjoy soft jazz, folk, oldies, country or new rock, you can learn to consciously choose to use the time to rest your body and mind from the days events. Even just keeping your attention focused on the music, you can let go of intrusive thoughts, as they pop up, and feel refreshed. When listening to the radio, the blaring commercials can take over, or the (bad) news of the day, or stories from the DJ’s can be a distraction from time that can be intentionally used to unwind.

If no conscious break is taken during the day, by the time a person drops their head onto their pillow at night, their mind and body may be so “cranked” up that it’s a wonder that anyone can get to sleep at all. Here’s what I mean – visualize a “crank”, or a screwdriver, placed somewhere in your body making things tighter in your system as the day progresses:

• Wake up to an insistent alarm (crank)

• Rush around to get ready for your day (crank)

• Drive to work and get behind slow people, the train, or too many lights (crank)

• Arrive at work to your schedule being changed and not having the time to do the tasks you had planned on (crank)

• Rush around to do errands during your lunch break (crank)

• Or, like many people, skip lunch (crank, crank)

• Stay busy at work, never feeling like you can ever “do it all” (double crank)

• Leave work later than you had hoped, rush home (crank)

• Figure out what to have for dinner (crank)

• Watch the evening (bad) news (crank)

• Clean the kitchen, do some laundry, pick up and get ready for the day tomorrow (crank)

• Read or watch TV to relax (this may not be a crank up, but it’s not necessarily a crank down either since the adrenalin rush of a “stimulating” TV show can result in poor sleep

• Lay your head on your pillow to try to sleep and wonder why your system is so “tight” that it can’t relax and go to sleep.

So, what to do? Wake Up! Get Conscious!

Learn to use your day to your benefit intentionally, instead of letting your day, and your habits run you!

Instead of unconsciously following your old habits of increasing the layers of stress, find opportunities to take a few conscious breaths, and tighten and relax your muscles a few times, and let go.

As you learn to implement intentional relaxation “moments” throughout your day, your system will be more ready to unwind at the end of the day because there will be so much less unwinding to do. Again, this is just as helpful for people experiencing pain, because your body benefits from the use of intentional, relaxing breaths which bring oxygen to your muscles and improved blood flow to the areas that are healing.

Taking the time to care for ourselves is more of a “being” experience, rather than an act of doing. Although many of us are driven by the “doing” tasks that we set before ourselves each day, learning to implement small relaxation moments that will put you in a brief state of “being” will allow you to be so much more effective at whatever you are “doing”. And what better way to “be” than to “be” able to sleep well each night.

Doing these exercises isn’t as hard as remembering to do them. Changing your habits, and incorporating new cues into your daily patterns, will provide a path for successful relaxation and improved sleep.

May you sleep deeply.