Experts Corner

5 Tips For A Comfortable Night’s Sleep; By A Physiotherapist

June 17, 2021   By Caitlin Reid

Is back pain getting you down? We’ve brought in Physiotherapist Caitlin Reid to show us some moves that can give us pain-free sleep.

Aches and discomfort at night can ruin your sleep, but they don’t have to. As a Physiotherapist, I see how poor sleep can impact everything from my patient’s pain levels to their ability to manage daily stressors. Struggling with insufficient sleep is hard! But there are things you can do, especially if your lack of sleep is caused by discomfort. Here are five handy tips you can try to be more comfortable in bed.

1. Stretch Out Your Hips before Bed

Tight muscles around your hips can pull the lower back into a sway position, causing lower back soreness during the night. What we call tight hips really means tightness of the external rotators and flexors of the hip joint, including but not limited to:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Piriformis
  • Hip flexors

To stretch them, try sitting cross-legged and gently reaching forward. Check out this handy video to learn more about hip stretching.

2. Re-Think Your Pillow Choices

Too many of my patients wake up with neck pain due to the wrong pillow choice. There’s a lot of information out there on pillows, so it’s easy to get caught up in clever marketing instead of choosing what’s suitable for you. So! Forget the marketing, and consider these aspects when choosing a pillow:

  • Do you sleep mostly on your side and back? If so, you’ll need a medium profile pillow unless you have large shoulders, in which case you’ll probably need a higher profile pillow.
  • Do you sleep on your front? If so, you’ll need a very flat, pancake-like pillow.
  • How many pillows do you use? Ideally, use one good pillow rather than two mediocre pillows stacked on top of each other.

In general, if you’re waking with neck pain in the night or morning, it’s likely related to your pillow and your neck positioning. While every person’s unique body is different, as a general rule, I tell my patients to:

  • Avoid down-filled pillows as the thickness can’t be regulated
  • Look for pillows that have an ergonomic design, such as memory foam
  • Always sleep with your pillow flat and not inclined

3. Mobilise Your Lower Back before Sleep

Muscle length is great, but stretching your muscles won’t help lower back stiffness in bed if your joints are stiff. The solution is lower back mobility, which means moving your vertebrae gently while avoiding extremes of range. The two best ways to do this are:

4. Use a Massage Ball on Your Glute Muscles

Stretching can lengthen your hip muscles, but sometimes that’s not enough to increase blood flow and create change to discomfort in bed. Using a massage ball on your hips and releasing trigger points that form in the glute muscles from sitting for long periods is an easy way to enhance butt muscle length.

You can use a tennis ball, but a massage ball is better as it holds its shape and helps you find those tricky trigger point areas more easily. 

How? Roll the ball against your glutes by leaning against a wall. Sitting on a ball and releasing the glutes on the floor is often too strong and painful; you’ll hate it! Whether your hips are tight in bed from sitting for long periods at work or body changes like pregnancy, this video can guide you on using a massage ball for butt muscle release.

5. Mobilise Your Middle Back before Bed

Joint stiffness in your middle back/thoracic spine is a hallmark of modern life and desk work; it’s not your fault! We spent almost every moment of our day slightly bent forward in the thoracic spine, typing, washing up, writing or using tools. Very rarely do we ever rotate or bend backwards. This leads to stiffness in the middle back (thoracic spine) which can get achy at night. 

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Gently arch backwards every hour while sitting at your desk
  • Foam roll your thoracic spine daily
  • Gently rotate your shoulders side to side while sitting to create a twisting movement

Discomfort at night can disrupt anyone’s sleep, so try adding these few easy movements to your daily routine to help make you more comfortable at night. Just two minutes every evening can help you sleep more comfortably, helping you wake up feeling brighter and more energised.

*If you’re experiencing pain or constant discomfort at night, always talk to your health professional for advice. None of the content in this article may be regarded as medical advice or diagnosis.

About the Author

Caitlin Reid is an Australian & NZ Physiotherapist and Wellness Consultant, passionate about sharing health and wellness tips that work. As well as working privately in a clinic and at wellness retreats around the world (when the world is open!), she’s the founder of Aprive Wellness, a brand dedicated to making evidence-based wellness inclusive, inspiring and easy-to-understand.

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