More than one-third of all adults -- 39% -- get less than 7 hours of sleep each weeknight. That may also be part of why so many of us are so achy, says Nessler.
“Sleep is when the body heals,” he says. “When you’re not falling into REM sleep or limiting that type of sleep, you tend to be clumsier and your muscles aren’t as quick and resilient, as well. So if you’re not getting enough REM sleep, that can dramatically increase your potential for injury, and decrease your ability to heal from an existing injury.”
There are many culprits behind sleep problems, from sleep apnea to wakeful children to work stress. But Nessler recommends that everyone who isn’t getting enough sleep at night take a look at two things: their mattress and their sleep position.
“I’m a physical therapist and even so, it took me and my wife a while to figure out that our problems sleeping were because of our mattress,” he says. “You need to have a mattress that supports you, and you can’t keep the same one forever.”
What kind of mattress do you need? “Everyone is a little different,” Nessler says. “Some people sleep better on a slightly harder mattress, some a softer one, but you don’t want a mattress that you sink into too much. You want to keep your spine in a fairly neutral position.”
A mattress is a big investment. Find a store that will let you test one out at home for 15-30 days. There are stores that will, so if the one you’re shopping at says no, keep looking. “We tried out about four before we found the right one!” Nessler says.
Another tip that can help almost anyone, no matter what their sleep issue: experiment with pillows. “Again, you want to be sleeping with your spine in a neutral position,” says Nessler. “If you sleep on your side, put a pillow between your knees. If you’re on your back, place it under your knees.” Better sleep positioning with the help of pillow support can ease pain both by giving you a more restful night, and by easing pressure on your spine.
A body of research shows that exercise can ease many types of pain, from arthritis to low back pain. Many of us may not only miss out on a great source of pain relief, but we could be making pain worse, by not moving enough.
“If you stay moving and stay active as you get older, you naturally maintain the mobility and simple strength of your body that helps prevent the muscle imbalances that create pain,” says Polivka.
A great exercise that almost everyone can do is walking. But Polivka notes that a lot of people are walking wrong. (Yes, you’ve been walking since you were a year old, but it’s possible to do it wrong.)