Written By Madeleine Bailey

A good night’s sleep is key for so many aspects of our wellbeing, and a growing amount of research shows that regularly missing out has serious health implications, from irritability and poor concentration to increased risk of infections, diabetes and high blood pressure. Yet, one in three of us often have trouble sleeping, according to a Mental Health Foundation report. And especially those who experience pain.

If aches and pains are keeping you awake, try these smart sleep tactics by our Lloyds Pharmacist, Anshu Bhimbat…

Time your meds right

“If you’re taking medication for a painful condition, space it at regular intervals, including a dose shortly before bed,” advises pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat.

Don’t rely on sleeping pills

The active ingredient in over-the-counter sleeping tablets is an antihistamine called diphenhydramine, which may leave you feeling groggy in the morning. There are herbal alternatives, which don’t usually have that effect. “However, they are all designed for short-term use only,” warns Anshu Bhimbat. “Sleeping tablets mask the problem, rather than tackling it. And although they are not physically addictive, taking them too often may mean you start to rely on them.”

Give your bed an MOT

“Your needs change over time and it could be that your mattress is too soft or too hard for your joints,” explains Anshu Bhimbat. A lumpy, hard or unsupportive mattress or pillow can lead to aches and pains at night, according to the Sleep Council. Try replacing mattresses every seven years.

Try practising mindfulness

Mindful meditation, a technique that involves focusing on your breathing and the present moment, was found to significantly reduce insomnia, fatigue and depression in a 2015 study featured on Harvard Health Publishing. It can help you to relax and break away from anxious thoughts, such as focusing on pain. New to mindfulness? Visit Be Mindful for more information or try a guided mediation session with Headspace which offer free bite-size meditation guides specifically for sleep.

Practise good sleep hygiene

There are a number of things you can do in the lead up to bedtime that will help you feel more relaxed and ready for sleep. Anshu Bhimbat suggests:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day to help you get into a regular sleep pattern.
  • Avoid using your laptop or mobile phone before bed – the blue light emitted from the screen suppresses production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Get some exposure to natural daylight in the morning – this could be opening your curtains wide when you wake up. Avoid bright lights in the evening to help establish a natural sleep/wake cycle.
  • Exercise during the day but not too close to bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom for sleeping rather than other activities. Keep the temperature comfortable and the room dark. An eye patch can also help.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine – including chocolate – for several hours before bed.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed as it interferes with sleep quality.

When should I see a doctor?

You should see your GP if you have already spoken to your Lloyds pharmacist, you have tried all the above methods and you still have severe pain and/or you have other new or unexplained symptoms.

Ask your pharmacist what medication would suit you best, how much, how often and when to take your pain relief medication. Always read the label and never exceed the dosage stated on the packet.