3 Simple Techniques to Get to Sleep With a Whiplash Injury

For this month's contribution from Maximize Health Group, we decided to get some advice on how to get to sleep with a whiplash injury.

We have again enlisted the help of Physiotherapist, Sean McCoola. Sean brings experience to his clients from 20 years as a physiotherapist and has a particular interest in sporting teams and rehabilitation programmes.

Read on to see his insights.

How does whiplash affect your sleep?

Whiplash from a motor vehicle accident can result in many and varied symptoms. Losing sleep and a loss in sleep quality, are manifestations of sleep deprivation that is a common affliction from a Whiplash injury. Sleep deprivation can result in irritability, lack of concentration, memory loss, decision making challenges and increase emotional instability. If sleep deprivation continues long enough, physical signs appear including weight gain, frequent illness, visual disturbances, skin changes, poor motor skills and some even feel they fall asleep at the wheel (a sign of the phenomenon called micro-sleep). 

Advice from your GP regarding appropriate medication, information from a psychologist regarding mental and emotional techniques and having a sleep or bed time routine are all useful and relevant options to limit sleep deprivation and may all be required to form a structured plan to cease your lack of sleep. You can also use the 3 simple techniques below to stop sleep deprivation today

Use a breathing technique

Controlling your breath and focusing on this, switches the “flight or fight” response that is commonly turned on after a whiplash injury to the more appropriate and normal “rest and digest” response required for body repair and rejuvenation while you sleep. A breathing technique will relax you physically and mentally and set you up for a continuous sleep. Try the simple technique-it’s all you need. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity, this method is fast and effective

  • Breathe in for 3 seconds
  • Breathe out for 3 seconds
  • Continue for 5-10 minutes before sleep while you are lying on your back in bed
  • Breathe in and out through your nose

Tip #1

Once you have practised this before bed in a lying position you will be able to expand your practise to different postural positions and times throughout the day.


This simple breathing technique will reduce stress, improve your concentration and enable you to be more effective throughout the day

Use heat

Heating your neck and shoulder areas while in bed will send you off to sleep. The heat reduces muscle spasm and pain, calms the nervous system and improves healing by increasing blood flow to the area and stimulating the metabolic rate. You can have a warm bath or shower before bed or use a heat pack (microwaveable wheat bags are very effective) while in bed.

Tip #2

As with all functions of the human body not everyone will get relief from heat.
Try cold packs as an alternative.
Cold will also reduce muscle spasm and pain, calm the nervous system and can limit any inflammatory processes from Whiplash injury which will speed up repair and healing.

Use massage

Self -massage or massage from someone else is highly affective before bed and will reduce your sleep deprivation. Massage decreases muscle spasm and pain, returns muscle to normal length, sedates the nerve endings causing pain and other sleep depriving symptoms and improves blood flow to the area for improved natural healing.

Tip #3

For self -massage, lie on your back and reach across chest to massage the opposite shoulder and neck.

Also try lying on your back and placing one or two hands behind your head and neck-with this technique you can actively massage with finger/hand movement or allow gravity to place pressure on your neck and base of head through resting them on your fingers and hands to resolve those painful “trigger points”

If lying on your back is uncomfortable or not the position you sleep in, try lying on your side and reach hands across your body or up to the same side

To stop sleep deprivation from whiplash, use all 3 of these simple techniques simultaneously. While lying in bed on your heat pack massage yourself while practising the breathing technique. Repeat if you wake during the night.


Thanks Sean.

Stay tuned next month for another article from Maximize Health Group.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding these tips, whiplash injury recovery or other health issues please do not hesitate to contact Sean on +61 7 3343 5494 or [email protected]thgroup.com.au.