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One of the things we have noted among the patients that seek help for chronic pain is how many are also experiencing poor or inadequate sleep. Poor sleep and chronic pain go hand-in-hand.

Most of my patients come to see me about chronic pain of one kind or another. It may be back or neck pain; or it might be chronic joint or muscle pain. Over the past 30 years we have developed very successful approaches to resolve chronic pain from many causes. Treatments can include a wide range of approaches, including hands-on treatment, advanced technologies, recommendations for proven kinds of home activities or other innovative approaches.

One of the most rewarding aspects of our care is that the majority of patients will spontaneously tell us that they are sleeping better soon after they begin care. Many tell us this after their first treatment. We have found that this self-reporting on their sleep improvement is a very positive sign. It almost always means a positive response to our treatment regimen.

When a patient tells us soon after beginning care that they “had the best night’s sleep I have had in a long time,” that almost always is followed by a comment such as “I can tell the difference in my pain already.”

Quality sleep in adequate amounts is critical to our health.  Sure, we can get by with inadequate sleep for a little while due to our reserves if we are in good health. But after a short while we begin to suffer in numerous ways.

One of the first signs of poor sleep is simply recognizing that you feel tired during the day. Poor sleep can result in slow thinking, loss of mental alertness, difficulty remembering or focusing, fatigue, lack of enthusiasm, sluggishness, and changes in mood or personality.

After a while poor sleep begins to affect our immune system, making us more prone to viral or bacterial infections and impairing healing from cuts, bruises and wounds. Poor sleep can impair our immune system in other ways such as affecting how our immune system may overreact to stimuli.

Sleep disturbances can affect our weight.  Studies have shown that people that sleep well for seven or more hours are better able to control their weight than those that do not. Getting good quality sleep may help you maintain a healthy weight.

Statistically about one third of the people reading this column are already recognizing that their sleep is impaired. Another third is affected by poor sleep but may not have recognized this as a problem yet. There is widespread interest in getting better sleep.

Sleep improvement can be complicated, depending upon the underlying reason someone is not sleeping well. As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, poor sleep is often related to chronic pain, so the steps taken to actually resolve the chronic pain can be helpful for obtaining better sleep.

Note that this applies to steps taken to “actually resolve” the underlying source of the pain.  Masking the pain with a pill does not resolve the pain in many cases, but simply helps the patient pretend the underlying problem doesn’t exist. This can allow every aspect of the problem to get worse by ignoring it.

There are however, several steps that you may be able to try tonight to improve your sleep. Here are five better sleep tips to try:

1. Take some time before bedtime to intentionally relax. Turn off the TV and internet about an hour before a reasonable bedtime. 

2. Take some time to begin to intentionally slow your breathing by taking in deeper, slower breaths. You may want to try literally counting to yourself as you breathe in, pause, breathe out, pause again, then repeat. If you get distracted and begin to breathe more shallow and quickly, just start over again.

3. Do some very slow, whole body easy stretching movements.  Slow and easy is the key.  This is a relaxing time, not exercising time.

4. Listen to some slow, relaxing music. Music can quicken our body’s responses with a fast beat and increase energy, or can help slow our mind and body if it is a slower pace.

5. Pray. By praying you are unloading all of the things that may keep you up at night. Praying doesn’t have to be complicated, just talk to God. 

You will likely find that by following the steps listed above, you will see some improvement in your sleep tonight. If you have medical issues such as chronic pain that may be involved, seek professional help from someone that can help resolve the problems.

Dr. Mark Kestner is a chiropractor in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St.

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