Pain from muscle aches or menstrual cramps can wreak havoc with falling asleep and staying asleep. After a few nights of broken sleep, we become less able – mentally, emotionally and physically – to deal with the effects of lingering pain. The fatigue curtails our normal activities, darkens our mood and increases our stress level and anxieties, interfering with our ability to sleep even further. Our cognitive function can be impaired. If we already have mobility problems, our ability to balance can be disrupted, leading to falls and injuries. According to The Arthritis Society, “effective pain management helps break the pain cycle by rejuvenating both the mind and the body.”1 So how should you cope if you have pain that interferes with sleep? For occasional sleepless due to pain, there are some over-the-counter medications available (e.g. Extra Strength TYLENOL® Nighttime).  However, if it persists for 2 weeks or more, you might want to see your physician to rule out or identify any underlying cause or condition. You may also want to try using some reliable relaxation techniques, either in combination with the medicine or as a first response. Helpful for anyone trying for a good night’s rest, these techniques – ranging from repetitive mental exercises and breathing methods to meditation and visualization practices to gentle physical exercises and self-massage – are even suggested by such diverse organizations as the Arthritis Society of Canada1. Since pain has both a mental and a physical component, these techniques are designed to help both body and mind; some are passive, others are active, but all are effective. One caution: If you have been diagnosed with an ongoing medical condition such as arthritis, check with your doctor or a physical therapist, as appropriate, to make sure the physical exercises will be safe and helpful for you.

Incorporating a series of gentle stretches and/or yoga moves into your bedtime ritual can also help to ameliorate pain  and ease you into sleep.

Instead of counting those tired sheep, experts say you can still your mind by slowly repeating a word, such as “serene” or “beauty” (choose a word that is evocative and soothing for you), or a phrase, such as “I am safe;” try to focus on these words and the peaceful feeling they invoke, letting any intrusive thoughts simply fall away. Visualization techniques are also helpful. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself in a place that you love, a place that brings you calm. For some people, this might be canoeing into the dock at the cottage, for others, it could be sitting in a hayfield at their parents’ farm. Let yourself sink into the scene, engaging all of your senses in the exercise. You can also concentrate on your breaths to refocus and calm both body and mind. Or you can use progressive-relaxation techniques, such as tensing each muscle group for five seconds, then pausing for 30 seconds before moving upward, from your toes to the top of your head (don’t forget to relax the muscles around your eyes and mouth). If you need help, you can find many free resources online. The University of Maryland Medical Centre offers great step-by-step instructions for progressive relaxation, as well as toe tensing, deep breathing, guided imagery and a “quiet-ear” technique online, for example. You can also find the Positive Coping With Health Conditions – Relaxation Method Audio from Simon Fraser University. Another “passive” coping strategy that’s gaining traction is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, promoted by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and described in his book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness (Delta, 1990). The related mindfulness meditation is a secular meditation technique that encourages a calm recognition then release of bodily sensations and thoughts to relax body and mind (a quick search online offers up an array of commercial apps, CDs and tapes). Incorporating a series of gentle stretches and/or yoga moves into your bedtime ritual can also help you ameliorate any pain problems and ease you into a good sleep. Canada’s Best Health magazine offers six yoga poses, complete with photographs. You may want to follow this up with a little self-massage. Extra Strength TYLENOL(R) Nighttime provides fast and effective relief of occasional mild to moderate nighttime pain and accompanying sleeplessness.

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