Sleeping Well with Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is suspected to affect between 11% and 40% of American adults. The most common types of chronic pain include back pain, nerve pain, joint pain and chronic headaches, and it is one of the top reasons adults seek medical care. 1 A variety of additional problems are linked to chronic pain including depression and anxiety, restrictions in daily activities and mobility, dependence on opioids, and reduced quality of life.
No matter the extent which the chronic pain sufferer experiences these symptoms, most all sufferers complain of inability to receive a good night of rest. Sleep is important for the physical health of all. However, it is even more important for those dealing with chronic problems. For example, sleep helps to repair the blood vessels and heart. Furthermore, sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of a variety of conditions including kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. 2
For the sufferer of chronic pain, sometimes the only time he or she receives reprieve from pain is while sleeping. Although, many develop problems while sleeping due to the inability to get comfortable. A vicious cycle then begins of feeling exhausted which increases symptoms and pain.
Although difficult, sleeping with chronic pain is not impossible. Here are seven methods which may help improve your sleep quality despite the pain.
When you suffer from chronic pain, you tend to try to get sleep anytime and any way you can. Sleep is however, how the pain is avoided. Sometimes a nap is unavoidable after a fitful night of sleep, but don’t nap routinely. Napping too much during the day may increase your chances of not being able to sleep at night.
If you do feel especially tired, try to nap in the morning and set an alarm so you don’t sleep the day away. A morning nap allows more time to pass before bedtime than an afternoon nap, ensuring you are sufficiently sleepy for bedtime.
Develop a routine
Although it is difficult to avoid hitting the snooze button, rising and laying down at the same time everyday is important. Your internal clock will adjust and your body will prepare to relax and sleep at the right time.
During the day, open up the house and let in as much light as possible. Exposing yourself to light helps your internal clock become more aware of when it is time to go to sleep.
Also, go through the same steps of your sleep routine each night. Spend half an hour or so going through your hygiene routine and complete a relaxing activity before turning off the light such as reading. Avoid screens from computers, smartphones and TVs which can be overstimulating and keep your mind from winding down. Some relaxation exercises may also help you go to sleep more quickly.
Caffeine is a stimulant found in sodas, teas, energy drinks, coffee and chocolate. Limit your consumption as much as possible and consume caffeine by early afternoon. This will allow sufficient time for the effects to wear off before bedtime.
Review your medications
Discuss your medications with your doctor to ensure none of them are causing you to lose sleep. Also, ask your doctor about sleep aids. Although not usually recommended long term, your doctor may approve for you to take a sleep aid short term to help get your sleep on track or as needed for particularly bad days.
Exercising four to eight hours before bedtime may help reduce anxiety, a common factor that interrupts sleep. However, be sure to allow enough of time between exercise and bedtime. Working out too late in the day can keep you awake.
Create a good environment for sleep
Many factors can influence your sleep including mattress and pillow firmness, sleep position, temperature and darkness level. Consider using white noise to block out noise if your bedroom is near a high traffic area. Blackout shades may also help. Discuss with your doctor to learn if he or she recommends specific types of mattresses, pillows and sleep positions for your type of pain.
Get your pain under control
Although easier said than done, getting your pain under control is the best method to improving sleep. Relaxation techniques, acupuncture, medications and surgery are all used to help treat various forms of chronic pain. Discuss with your doctor which methods may be best.
If pain is part of your daily experience, we want to help you achieve the optimum level of comfort and an increased quality of life. Please seek medical attention from one of our CCMH providers. To learn more about problems affecting sleep and how we can help visit CCMHealth.com/Center-For-Sleep-Medicine/.
1 Dahlhamer J, Lucas J, Zelaya, C, et al. Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:1001–1006.
2 National Heart Blood & Lung Institute. Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.
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