Shakespeare clearly understood the links between good sleep and mental health issues. Thankfully, Hamlet only had homicidal mania to deal with and seems to have been untroubled by back problems; which presumably would have made the play much longer and not quite so fast paced. Experts have, for many centuries, recognised the links between sleep and good health. Good sleep promotes health in general, is known to be beneficial to women in the early stages of pregnancy, can help those with illness to recover more quickly and has a deep impact on both mental health and concentration. Poor sleep can lead to a weak immune system, depression and poor performance at work. Musculoskeletal problems – back and neck pain in particular – can be caused or heightened by poor sleeping posture. Insomnia is also a well-known and widely experienced illness that is something of a catch 22 condition. Lack of sleep doesn’t necessarily lead to more sleep in the long run and can become a debilitating illness that fuels many of the other problems associated with poor sleep.
Sleep – The Basics
There are some basic rules that experts recommend to achieving good sleeping patterns. These include, perhaps most importantly, establishing a ‘good routine’. Regular sleeping times, both going to bed and waking, help to get the body and the brain working together. Association plays a big part in our lives and having a calm, quiet, relaxing bedroom without the distractions of TV, music, computers and even books, helps to train the brain into an association of the room with sleep.
Other significant factors that can affect sleep are lack of exercise and over use of stimulants. The stimulants in question include all of the usual suspects; alcohol, tobacco and even food. Generally experts recommend making the last two to three hours an alcohol, smoking and food free zone. Regular exercise during the day, again not immediately prior to bedtime, also helps to encourage the body to feel the need for sleep and helps to develop a good sleeping pattern.
Let’s Get Physical
Back and neck problems can have many different causes and many of us have to undergo regular training sessions at work, relating to our posture. Employers take Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations seriously – yet all their good work could be undone overnight; literally. The correct posture for sleeping is not just a matter of personal choice but can have an impact on back and neck problems.
Sleeping on our backs is recommended as the best position; this reduces the pressure on the spine and neck allowing them to fully relax. The muscles that support the length of our spine and neck need the strain to be reduced to relax fully, reducing wear and tear and pain. Sleeping on your front increases the pressure on these areas and does nothing to help existing problems. Sleeping on your side is not as bad but still causes unnecessary strain.
Help and Support
The right mattress and the right pillows are crucial for good healthy sleep, especially if you have existing back or neck problems. Both should be firm and supportive and memory foam mattresses, that adapt to your body’s natural shape, are considered particularly good as they adapt to the individual. Pillows for neck pain are widely available and these act to support the neck correctly during sleep. Again memory foam pillows are good – the pillow should support your head but not tilt it upright or forward, which will increase strain. Feather pillows are a good substitute as they act in a similar manner to foam but some people suffer from allergies to them and they aren’t ideal in every case.
Sleep matters and if it is a problem seek medical advice and consider replacing your mattress, pillow or both with a memory foam version that will give your back and neck the support they need. Treated carefully, back, neck and mattress should last a lifetime.