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Sleep has long been overlooked when it comes to its value in helping us optimize our health; this is especially true in seniors’ health.  When we sleep, our body enters a rest and restore phase to improve all body systems’ functioning.  Getting sufficient sleep helps boost seniors’ health in many ways; it improves brain health (memory/concentration), immune system function, cardiovascular health and can have a positive impact on body weight management.  

The impact of sleep is so powerful that the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines now highlight its importance.  These guidelines recommend all adults strive to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.  

Getting a good night’s sleep can be easier said than done.  There are many factors that can impact our ability to get adequate sleep.  These include (but aren’t limited to) stress/anxiety, snoring/sleep apnea, unhealthy habits (screen time and/or eating large meals right before bedtime) and pain.  However difficult it may be to overcome these challenges, the potential benefits of a good night’s sleep to seniors’ health are worth it.

As a physiotherapist, addressing how pain impacts my client’s sleep is critical to helping them optimize injury recovery.   I regularly ask my clients if, when and how often, their sleep is disrupted due to pain.  Here are my favourite physio tips for optimizing sleep.

Physio Tips 

Tip #1 – Control Symptoms at Bedtime

If pain is an issue as you settle in for the night, taking a few minutes to reduce your symptoms before trying to get to sleep.  Many of my clients find using ice or heat for 10-15 minutes, a TENS unit, topical pain relievers or a few gentle exercises right before bed can help them feel better as they lie down.  When you are more comfortable at bedtime, it can be easier to settle in and fall asleep more quickly.

Tip #2 – Sleep Position

There is no one-size fits all position.  I find the position that is best tolerated by most is lying on one side with a pillow between the knees and a pillow underneath the head/neck but not shoulder.  This is a neutral position for the body and generally well-tolerated. Of course, lying on your back is also a good option if it’s comfortable, preferably with no pillow under the legs.  I generally recommend against sleeping on your stomach because it tends to eventually provoke neck and back pain.

Tip #3 – Diaphragmatic Breathing 

Once symptoms have been minimized and you’re well-positioned, it can be helpful to focus your attention to your breathing.  Diaphragmatic breathing can be really helpful in triggering the parasympathetic nervous system to come on.  This part of our nervous system is typically referred to as the rest and digest system.  When activated, it reduces our level of stress and anxiety and can allow the body to get to the business of systems repair.

These physio tips are a good start but if you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep due to discomfort, consider seeking advice from a Zoomers physiotherapist.  Getting an appropriate volume of good quality sleep is paramount to optimizing seniors’ health.  We will work to identify why you are uncomfortable at night and help you form individualized solutions that work for you.  

Book an assessment with Zoomers

Use our online booking tool to find a time that works for you!