Stop the cycle of chronic pain & sleepless nights

December 11, 2019

Sleep and painPain is a key factor in the gap between the amount of sleep Americans say they need and the amount they’re getting, according to the National Sleep Foundation. On average, those with chronic pain have a 42-minute sleep debt, and those who have suffered from acute pain in the past week have a sleep debt of 14 minutes.

These statistics indicate that if you suffer from acute or chronic pain, you are more likely to have sleep problems. Likely, these sleep problems negatively impact your daily life. Maybe it’s hard to concentrate at work, or you don’t have the energy to participate in activities you enjoy. Relationships may go neglected, or your overall mood and attitude toward life are not what they used to be. 

While these problems often occur a cycle involving pain and lack of sleep, it’s important to understand what’s going on in your mind and body so that you can find strategies to cope and live a healthy life.

The connection between pain & sleep

Pain affects sleep, and sleep affects pain. What do we mean by this?

When you first start experiencing pain, most people do not have sleepless nights because of it. But when pain becomes a problem, especially when it becomes chronic, it can be a vicious cycle. If you experience poor sleep due to pain one night, you are likely to experience more problems the next day and night and so on. It gets worse and worse every night.

We know that pain triggers poor sleep. For example, someone experiencing lower back pain may have several intense microarousals (a change in the sleep state to a lighter stage of sleep) each hour of sleep. This leads to several awakenings throughout the night. Microarousals don’t typically bother someone without chronic pain. However, it can be a terrible burden for those who are experiencing chronic pain. Pain is often associated with insomnia, and when these problems are combined, one issue leads to another.

Treating pain-related sleep problems

One approach that is sometimes helpful is taking pain medication right before bed. Any medicines should be approved by your doctor to make sure it fits into your overall treatment plan. Sleep medication may also be helpful, but it’s very important to talk with your doctor to make sure it won’t conflict with other medications you may be taking.

Trying to stay on a regular sleep schedule is also a good strategy. Stick to your usual habits by going to bed at the same time every night, and despite how poorly you may sleep, get up at the same time the next day. Avoid napping if that is not part of your normal routine. Sticking to this schedule no matter what will help set your internal sleep clock and enhance your natural sleep drive.

Practicing good sleep habits such as these can go a long way in improving sleep, even for those who experience pain in the night. Here are a few more ideas: 

  • Stop or limit caffeine consumption
  • Limit alcohol intake, especially in the evening
  • Practice relaxation techniques and mindfulness meditation
  • Avoid loud sounds and bright lights before bed and during the night (TV, smartphones, tablets, computers)
  • If you do wake in the night and have trouble falling back asleep, try getting up to read a book in a quiet room with low light for a while

Are sleep problems caused by more than pain?

One thing to remember is that while sleep problems associated with pain are common, there could be underlying causes. It’s important to rule out any other issues that could be interfering with your sleep, such as sleep apnea. 

It’s crucial  to see a doctor, such as the ones at Southside Pain Specialists, who specializes in chronic pain and knows what to look for when it comes to the cycle between chronic pain and sleep disturbances. We can point you in the direction of sleep specialists if there’s a reason to do so. There may be several approaches we can take to improve your sleep, your chronic pain, and your overall quality of life. 

Southside Pain Specialists is your one-stop shop for pain management

With a multitude of pain relief options tailored to your specific needs, Southside Pain Specialists follow the standards of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, The American Board of Pain Medicine and the International Spinal Injection Society and work hard to provide patients comprehensive, caring pain relief when they need it most. Check out our website or contact us today at 205.332.3155 to learn more.