Even if you think you’re sleeping the whole night through, your chronic pain could have a bigger impact than you realize on the quality of your sleep.
Do you often wake up tired even though you think you slept like a log?
It’s likely that your pain problems are disturbing your ability to reach the deepest, most relaxing stages of sleep. The routine of pain – poor sleep – more pain – terrible sleep is a tricky one to face, but the good news is that you don’t always need to reach for the sedatives to break the cycle.
How Chronic Pain Causes Sleep Disturbances
Pain impacts sleep in several ways. The most obvious, of course, is a sharp twinge that wakes you as you turn over. The constant pattern of turn, pain, wake, sleep means you’re not spending enough time in the most restorative stages of deep sleep.
Chronic pain is also as emotional as it is physical. If you go to bed worrying about your pain, that worry will have a negative effect on your sleep, too.
Stress causes a physical response in the central nervous system, such as raising heart rates and increasing the level of cortisol. The impact this has on sleep, including waking up frequently or an inability to fall asleep when you feel tired, is significant.
The Effects of Poor Sleep on Chronic Pain
There’s a tough catch-22 with pain and sleep: not only does pain cause sleep disturbances, but a lack of sleep can worsen chronic pain symptoms, too.
This has been recognized in certain pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia: flare-ups are directly linked to sleep patterns.
However, all chronic pain sufferers are at risk of their sleep habits exacerbating their pain further. Poor sleep can cause mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. These problems then feed into the pain-sleep cycle, causing even more sleep disruption, or worse, total insomnia.
When you realize that sleep affects pain just as much as pain affects sleep, it’s easier to learn techniques to finally break the vicious pain – poor sleep – more pain cycle.
How to Improve Sleep to Reduce Pain
A good night’s sleep won’t cure your pain, but it’s the first step to reducing chronic pain, improving wellbeing, and boosting your mood to help you feel more able to cope with pain.
If you feel that your pain means that restorative sleep isn’t possible, don’t panic! There are plenty of actions you can take to help improve sleep, even when you have chronic pain.
Alter your sleeping position
It’s hard to break a lifetime habit of being a side sleeper, or preferring to sleep on your back, but changing the position in which you sleep can reduce pain. If you try to change your position but wake up back in your normal one, use pillows as a prop to stop you from rolling over in your sleep.
Change your pillows
A simple solution for many chronic pain conditions is to change your pillows. If you constantly wake up with neck, shoulder, or back pain, your pillow could be the culprit. Find a pillow that suits the way you sleep. For example, a side sleeper pillow has extra depth to it to reduce the strain on your neck.
Upgrade your mattress
Your mattress may be too hard or too soft to provide the right support for your pain type. If it’s a few years old, the natural dents and wear will also impact the level of support you’re getting in your sleep. Test several mattresses out before you buy a new one. Lie on each one for at least ten minutes to determine if it is too firm or too soft for your needs.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants: they won’t help you sleep. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, but it will restrict the quality sleep you actually get. Avoid stimulants a few hours before you go to bed to help your brain and body feel ready for sleep at the right time.
Switch to natural pain management options at night
Some painkillers, in particular opioid-based medications, might make you feel sleepy – but they also interrupt the quality of sleep you’ll get. Other over-the-counter pain medications can include caffeine too, which isn’t ideal for sleep.
Natural pain management strategies, such as electrical stimulation, meditation, and relaxing breathing techniques can help minimize pain without interrupting sleep. Try using different natural pain management techniques before bedtime to find which ones work best for you.