what is causing your insomnia?

So, how well did you sleep last night? Horribly? Okay? Great?

The inability to fall or stay asleep is the most common sleep complaint among Americans – especially those with chronic back pain. There are many reasons that could be contributing to your insomnia.

Do you want to be able to sleep well? Then let’s look at some ways to help you be more pain free.

Trouble Falling Asleep

There are many reasons why you may be tossing and turning in bed. Counting sheep or looking at your ceiling aren’t going to help you get back to sleep. Especially if the reason you are awake is a pain-filled back.

Chronic pain can impact sleep in many ways. To understand how a pain problem can make it difficult to fall asleep, it is helpful to think about the process associated with going to sleep for the night.

In getting ready for bed, it is common to eliminate all distractions or other influences to relax and fall asleep. This may include quieting the room, turning off the lights, eliminating any other noises, trying to get comfortable, and beginning to try to fall asleep.

However, this quieting of one’s environment can cause problems for the chronic back pain sufferer, since the only thing left for the brain to focus on is the pain. Patients will often report that one of their primary pain management tools during the day is to distract themselves from their chronic back pain by staying busy with other tasks (e.g., reading, watching television, engaging in hobbies or crafts, working, interacting with others, etc.).

When trying to fall asleep, there are no distractions except for the pain, and the perception of pain can increase. The longer falling asleep is delayed, the more stressful the situation becomes.

Problems Staying Asleep

Many chronic pain patients also report awakening frequently during the night. Research has demonstrated that individuals experiencing chronic lower back pain may experience several intense “microarousals” (a change in sleep state to a lighter stage of sleep) per hour of sleep, which lead to awakenings. Thus, the chronic pain problem can be a significant intrusion into a night’s sleep and disruptive to the normal stages of sleep.

This problem is often the cause of non-restorative sleep. Individuals with chronic pain often experience less deep sleep, more awakenings during the night, as well as less efficient sleep. Thus, the quality of sleep is often light and unrefreshing.

This non-restorative sleep pattern can then cause diminished energy, depressed mood, fatigue, and worse pain during the day.

Here are some ways to help restore better sleep.

4 tips on how to sleep better

Dim Those Lights

You may want to consider darkening the overhead light in your room when you preparing to fall asleep. Consider adding dark colored window curtains to black out the room and diminish any colorful distractions.

Studies show that blue light from televisions, smartphones, or computer screens also make it harder to fall asleep. This light prevents your brain from releasing melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it’s time for bed. Instead of scrolling through your newsfeed while in bed, choose a dim nightlight, soothing music, and a paperback book to help you get into a relaxed state.

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Medicine, Dr. Dan Siegel, explains, “People are exposing their eyes to this stream of photons from these objects that basically tells your brain, ‘Stay awake! It’s not time to go to sleep yet.’”

Sleep in a Different Position

One way to help your back as you sleep is to maneuver yourself into different sleeping positions. Try placing a pillow in-between your knees to provide your cervical and thoracic spine with much-needed support or lie flat on your back to decrease pressure on your lower back and spinal discs.

Much like sleeping on your back, side sleepers should place a pillow between the knees to provide additional cervical support. Evidence suggests that habitually sleeping on one side over another may exacerbate muscle imbalance, enhanced back pain, and in select cases, scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. Sleeping on the same side also suspends the middle of your body between your hips and shoulders.

To best alternate sides, you will need to change positions as you fall asleep or throughout the night. To do so without further injury, try to ‘log roll’ between positions. This allows your whole body to move together. Moving just the torso may cause a twisting motion that doesn’t help your spine’s alignment.

Unfortunately, stomach sleeping does not support your spine’s alignment. Studies suggest that this is the worst position for sleeping due to the unnatural position of your neck, spinal alignment, and breathing —especially true if you just had spinal surgery.

If you are a stomach-sleeper, start by lying on your side with a pillow by your stomach and then gently roll over using the pillow as a support. You are not totally on your stomach, but it does feel like it without damaging your spine.

Mattresses are Important for Good Back Health

If you’re still having trouble sleeping after adjusting your position, consider updating your bedroom apparel. Your mattress type matters. Some of the best mattresses for back pain are a well-made innerspring, foam, or Tempur-Pedic mattress as compared to just your innerspring mattress. When dealing with the devil of chronic back pain, this will allow for additional support.

When your hips are wider than your waist, a softer mattress can accommodate the width of your pelvis and allow your spine to remain neutral. If your hips and waist are in a relatively straight line, a more rigid surface offers better support.

Studies show that a medium-firm mattress is best for most people. The key is to use what is comfortable for you. If your mattress is too firm, you can add an ‘egg crate’ foam mattress pad for additional cushion. Pillows come in all shapes and sizes. Find the one that’s right for you. If you don’t know which one works for you, try them all. There’s no limitation on how many pillows you can use or try out.

All the Good Vibes

Another suggestion is to focus your attention on a specific sound. Consider adding a sound machine to your sleep routine or download a sound app from your phone. Sound machines produce soothing sounds, such as music, rain, wind, highway traffic, and ocean waves mixed with—or modulated by— white noise. White noise resembles that of an air conditioner or fan. Before you know it, you feel calmer and ready to fall asleep.

While you work to perfect your sleeping etiquette by adjusting the lighting, updating your sleeping position, buying the best mattress for your back pain, and maybe adding a sound machine, you’ll soon realize that a good night’s sleep with a bad back is possible.

But for your restful sleep to be more consistent, chiropractic treatment and care is an important part of your health and ultimately sleep routine.

chiropractic treatment can ease the pain

Working with a chiropractor can aid your chronic pain relief by aligning your spine and allowing your muscles to settle into new patterns. This can teach your body what the correct musculoskeletal treatment can help with the pain you may be experiencing.

Take care of your body and it will take care of you.


To schedule an appointment for treatment with chiropractic, acupuncture or massage, please contact Shimer Chiropractic today at 720-340-4107. Your body will thank you.  

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