Although the common wisdom is that we spend a third of our lives sleeping, many of us don't get the quantity or the quality of sleep we need. Our hectic lifestyles and the 24-7-365 availability of distractions such as cable television and the Internet can cause us to cut back on the seven to nine hours of sleep that experts recommend we get each night. But even if we shoot for an adequate quantity of sleep, back pain and other problems can prevent us from getting the quality of sleep we need.
When lower back pain, neck pain, snoring, or a sleep disorder prevents us from getting the sleep we need, we accumulate what experts term a "sleep debt." One or two nights of restless or inadequate sleep won't harm us, but a pattern of sleep disruptions can have serious repercussions on our health, ranging from mental fuzziness and mood swings to cessations of breathing and even death. According to the National Sleep Foundation, "Sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road."
When back pain or neck pain causes sleep disruptions, it may be time to invest in a new mattress. Mattresses that use natural fibers, such as cotton, tend to harden over time, while box springs can begin to sag. A mattress that has outlived its usefulness forces you to sleep in positions that cause or exacerbate lower back pain and neck pain. While a new mattress set is an investment, it is one that will repay you a hundredfold in the form of mental alertness and physical energy that comes from getting restful sleep.
Sleep culprits like neck pain and snoring can often be alleviated with a new pillow. Special posture pillows are available that provide back and neck support, and that can raise your head enough to reduce snoring. A sleep posture pillow may take a period of adjustment, since your body will need to get used to a new position, but the positive effects should kick in within two to three weeks.
Keep in mind that severe snoring can sometimes be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where the tissues at the back of the throat block the airway. This causes the person with sleep apnea to stop breathing for a moment and then awaken. Sleep apnea can cause dozens of awakenings each hour, and can be a life-threatening condition. The bed partner of a person with sleep apnea is often the first to know something is wrong, since he or she can hear the person snoring and hear pauses in breathing, usually followed by a snort or a loud snore.
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it's important to have the condition properly diagnosed through a sleep study conducted overnight in a sleep lab. Treatment is most often the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that pushes air through the throat and into the lungs during sleep. Like a sleep posture pillow, a CPAP machine takes some getting used to. But it's a minor adjustment compared with the benefits of restful sleep.
About the author
Chris Robertson is a published author of
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