3 Ways to Improve Sleep from a Physical Therapist

By: Nicolette Morreale, PT, DPT, MS

Getting good sleep is much easier said than done lately, especially with work/life stress, decreased activity levels and stimulation, and loss of usual routines/rhythms.  Sleep is EXTREMELY important for decreasing pain, promoting healing, and improving overall mood and health.

Here are 3 recommendations I ALWAYS give to my patients to improve sleep quality:

Start a sleep routine

Get into the habit of going to bed the same time every night, and getting out of bed the same time every morning. Even if you’re not tired, get a bed time routine to let your body know it’s time to sleep – turn off the TV/cell phone 30 minutes prior to getting into bed, do the same hygiene routine nightly, and crawl under the covers at the same time.

Set your alarm for 8 hours to allow for 2 full sleep cycles (4 hours each), and get out of bed at that time even if you did not sleep well. Snoozing in the morning can throw off these rhythms, and you’re not “catching up” with good quality sleep (snoozing can actually make you more tired!).

Finally, avoid napping during the day. Naps are helpful if you’ve had less than 5 hours of sleep, but otherwise, they can really go against your efforts to make your sleep routine more regular. Sleep cycling is definitely challenging at first, but with persistence your body’s natural rhythm will catch up and begin to become routine as well by going to sleep at the same time, waking up at the same time, and avoiding naps if possible.

sleeping tips

Position yourself comfortably

Be kind to your joints during the night! Sleep positioning is always a challenging subject, because we have little control over body movements and positioning throughout the night. However, the more you do to plan positioning, the better chance you have at a comfortable night’s sleep.

AVOID sleeping on your stomach if possible – this puts your neck in an uncomfortable rotated position, which can lead to a stiff/sore neck for a few days (we have all been here!)

If laying on your side, place a pillow between your knees, and maybe even another pillow in front of you to rest your top arm on. If on your back, place pillows behind your knees. Pillow placement can provide more support for your spine and joints, as opposed to laying on a flat surface. If you would like more help with sleep and pillow positioning, please see my video below!

sleeping position


This is simple, but can go a long way in helping your sleep habits. If you exert yourself physically throughout the day whether it is a strengthening routine, or even just going for a walk around the block, your body will be more tired and restful when it comes time for bed.

If you spend most of your day in a sedentary state, and not exercising your body (and mind!), you are more likely to have more energy and become restless at bedtime.

For more advice on beginning and appropriate exercise routine and a more individualized approach, schedule an appointment with me or another PT/personal trainer at Performance Physical Therapy.


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