The Connection Between Sleep & Chronic Pain

December 14, 2021

sleep and pain You’re in pain, so you get anxious that you won’t be able to sleep. You sleep poorly, so you wake up feeling tired and depressed. When you feel bad, it makes your pain worse. The next night, it’s the same thing all over again.

This is what many people with chronic pain experience when it comes to sleep. They deal with a self-perpetuating cycle of pain, insomnia, and depression or anxiety. The majority of people with chronic pain do report substandard sleep quality.

This is why prioritizing sleep may be a key component in the path to improved quality of life and even recovery.

The Connection Between Sleep & Chronic Pain

The way our brain interprets pain depends on a number of factors, including our physical health, our mood, and the reason for the pain. When pain arises at night, it can interfere with sleep. People living with chronic pain may end up suffering from long-term sleep deprivation.

Some conditions may flare up at night or be provoked by certain sleeping positions. Others may cause persistent pain that does not ease at night. Chronic pain can also cause frequent wakings throughout the night. 

Researchers have found that short sleep times, fragmented sleep, and poor sleep quality often cause heightened sensitivity to pain the following day in chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. People with sleep problems also appear to be at a higher risk of eventually developing conditions like fibromyalgia and migraines

People with chronic pain often feel fatigued during the day. Depending on the level of disability, they may be less likely to exercise or follow a healthy diet, both of which are important for getting a good night’s sleep. 

Tips for Dealing With Chronic Pain During the Night

While dealing with sleep disturbances can be very difficult, it is encouraging to know that many studies have found that in the long term, quality sleep may improve chronic pain. There are many strategies to try to improve sleep for those with chronic pain.

  • Make Sleep a Priority — Because it can be more difficult to fall asleep, it’s important to make sleep a priority throughout the day. People who are permanently sleep-deprived due to their chronic pain may develop an unhealthy relationship with sleep. For instance, they may rely on caffeine or become stressed in the lead-up to bedtime because they know they will have trouble sleeping. Learning how to sleep while in pain starts by retraining your brain with healthy thoughts and behaviors.
  • Follow Basic Guidelines for Good Sleep — Following some basic sleep hygiene strategies can help prepare your body for sleep, starting in the morning. Make sure you get enough sunlight, exercise early in the day and stay as active as possible throughout, and follow a healthy diet. Avoid stimulants like screens, caffeine, or alcohol too close to bedtime.
  • Stick to a Regular Schedule — Trying to stay on a regular sleep schedule is also a good strategy. Go 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. 
  • Consider Sleeping Positions — When learning how to sleep with pain, the type of pain may dictate sleeping position. Those with hip, knee, or shoulder pain may need to avoid sleeping on their side. Those who are sensitive to pressure build-up in the lower back may need to be careful when sleeping on the back or stomach. A mattress and pillow designed to cushion pressure points and support the natural curvature of the spine may help alleviate some of the pain.
  • Deep Breathing & Mindfulness Techniques — These strategies may allow you to reconceptualize the pain in a way that’s easier to deal with. One of the principal ways in which pain affects sleep is by keeping the central nervous system aroused. In order to be effective, these strategies must help you to relax and not focus on the pain.
  • Don’t Force Yourself to Stay in Bed — If you are in too much pain to stay in bed or if you are getting anxious about sleep, get up. Go to another room and distract yourself with something else for a while. When you feel sleepy, try going to bed again.

Practicing good sleep habits can go a long way in improving sleep, even for those who experience pain in the night. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional for more help with sleep and pain management. We may be able to recommend additional therapies or prescribe medication to help you sleep better. There may be several approaches we can take to improve your sleep, your chronic pain, and your overall quality of life.

Start your pain management journey by scheduling an appointment at Southside Pain Specialists

With highly specialized training and a multitude of pain relief options, 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. We work hard to provide patients with comprehensive, caring pain relief when they need it most. Check out our website or contact us today at 205.332.3155 to learn more.