Improving Sleep When You’ve Got Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep, but pain can also make getting to sleep more difficult. 

However, there are ways to get both pain relief and good sleep. There seems to be a link between pain and sleep which travels both ways, where those who are better able to sleep can experience lower levels of discomfort.

How Chronic Pain Affects Sleep

Persistent painful symptoms can affect you throughout the night, as you toss and turn to find the right sleeping position. An issue such as hip or shoulder discomfort may mean you have problems when sleeping on your side.

Other conditions such as multiple sclerosis which affect the nerves may require you to constantly change position in the night to prevent tingling sensations. The outcome of any pain-related issue is poor rest and sleep deprivation. This can bring further physical and mental health problems.

Chronic pain conditions also seem to increase your risk of sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. Obstructive sleep apnea causes frequent pauses in breathing - and waking -- further compounding any sleep problems.

When we sleep, we go through three cycles, culminating in the Rapid Eye Movement stage. Frequently awaking through the night disrupts the balance of this cycle and ensures you are never fully rested and will feel fatigued during the day.

How Sleep Helps

Studies have consistently shown that good quality sleep can improve chronic pain over the long term. For example, research indicates people with rheumatoid arthritis may be more sensitive to their symptoms when the quality of their sleep is poor. If sleep improves, the symptoms are reduced.

Sleep deprivation affects the immune system, which reduces our body’s resilience. Studies are finding more connections including melatonin, often referred to as the sleep hormone, which seems to have an impact on our perception of discomfort. Also, people have different pain thresholds, and the extent of the discomfort will be based on the conditions causing pain.

This pain-insomnia cycle is hard to break. Consistent lack of sleep will inevitably mean daytime fatigue. This can affect an individual in a number of ways, one of which is to make them less motivated to eat well and exercise. As both of these are important for getting a good night’s sleep, once the cycle begins it can become self-perpetuating.

The Sleep-Pain-Anxiety Cycle

When you find it difficult to sleep due to painful symptoms, you can become anxious about not sleeping, and this anxiety can then make it harder to sleep. In the morning you are fatigued after a poor night’s sleep, which can further increase levels of anxiety and depression -- and greater sensitivity to pain.

Psychological factors can determine the severity of an individual’s discomfort level. Around one-third of people suffering with chronic pain are believed to suffer with depression, too. Breaking the sleep-pain-anxiety cycle may therefore require an approach which takes into account treatment for depression.

Improving Sleep

Since sleep can help combat chronic pain, improving your sleep is key. Developing a good sleep routine and good sleep hygiene can be vital strategies to help you cope with your pain. 

There are a number of ways to help you enhance the quality of your sleep.

Medication and Relaxation Techniques

If a painful condition is at the heart of your sleep problems, then work with your physician to find a solution. This could entail medication, relaxation techniques such as meditation, or possibly acupuncture. Ultimately, you should consult with a professional to find a solution that works best for you.

If you are already taking medication, your physician must ensure the medication is not contributing to your sleeping issues. Some medications like cortisone can hinder sleep, and some over-the-counter cough medicines can increase the risk of insomnia.

Get Into a Sleep Routine

Going to bed at the same time each night -- and getting up at the same time each day -- is part of an overall routine which promotes good sleep. Having a warm bath or reading before bed as part of this routine can also nurture a positive bedtime experience. 

A Healthy Sleep Environment

When you find it hard to sleep, you can become anxious just by the prospect of going to bed. It is helpful to have a bedroom environment which not only encourages sleep -- but is also calm and comfortable. Make sure the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet, with no TV or computer. If you cannot sleep at any point, go to another room where you can occupy yourself with a book until you feel tired.

Less Caffeine, More Exercise

Caffeine is a stimulant, so you should avoid coffee, tea and certain sodas in the afternoon and evening. Exercise can help reduce anxiety and promote sleep. However, do not exercise too close to bedtime, ideally between four to eight hours before you go to sleep.

Chronic pain affects one in five Americans, with one in four having a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea. Just as discomfort impacts sleep, sleep can impact on the level of your discomfort. By implementing good sleep hygiene, you could help alleviate your painful symptoms. 

Snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea; if you snore regularly and loudly, talk to a doctor to find a solution. Sleep apnea disrupts your breathing and your sleep and affects your overall health. Our SleepQuest Sleep Care Specialists are ready to advise you whether you might benefit from in-home testing for sleep apnea.

Everyone deserves a good night’s sleep; your body requires a good night’s sleep for restoration and good health. Let us know if we can help.