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How to Sleep With Chronic Pain

How to Sleep With Chronic Pain

Real talk: is there anything better than the revitalization and rejuvenation that comes from a full night's sleep? The type that makes you jump out bed, ready to take on the day?

Sleep does amazing things for our bodies such as helps with recovery from injuries, boosts the immune system, lowers stress hormones, and gives us energy. Incredible what can happen in that short period of time.

These great things happen when adults achieve the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep (at least) every night. Unfortunately, more than one-third of adults in the U.S. get less than 7 hours of sleep at night.

When sleep eludes us, it is defined as insomnia. Insomnia may manifest itself as difficulty falling asleep or problems staying asleep.

But for those who suffer from chronic pain, getting adequate sleep is even more of a challenge due to those nagging aches and pains. Research shows that people who suffer from chronic pain are much more likely to experience poor sleep quality than those who do not.

Can the cycle of insomnia be broken? Yes, it can! There are a few things you can work on to achieve a restful night.

Sleep Hygiene: Setting the Mood

Best Environment for Sleeping

Sleep hygiene is a term that refers to behavioral strategies that promote better sleep. Try incorporating any of the following 10 things into your routine:

  1. Think of your bedroom as a sanctuary. Use your bed for sleep (and sex, wink) only-- watch TV, read, and lounge elsewhere
  2. Only go to bed when you are tired
  3. If you find yourself lying awake for more than 20-30 minutes, go to another room and do a relaxing activity (like reading) until you are tired
  4. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Yes, even on weekends. Be boring!
  5. Avoid napping during the day; must. resist. the urge.
  6. No more after-lunch Starbucks runs; avoid caffeine within 8 hours of your planned bedtime
  7. Also be mindful of your booze intake as alcohol tends to disrupt sleep
  8. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. The National Sleep Foundation says a room temperature of about 65 degrees promotes the best sleep. A good excuse to crank up the A/C!
  9. Get yourself moving with exercise during the day but not within a few hours of your bedtime
  10. Avoid prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications as these are not good long-term solutions

Psych Yourself Out For Better Sleep

How to Use Psychology for Better Sleep

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in improving insomnia in those with chronic pain.

What is CBT?

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on treating problems and boosting happiness by saying 'adios' to negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. This therapy focuses on solutions rather than root causes.

CBT is widely used for a range of problems including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For those with insomnia, CBT aims to promote positive thoughts and behaviors that promote falling asleep. These may be coupled with deep-breathing, sensory imagery, or exercises like yoga or tai-chi.

You can participate in CBT one-on-one, in a group setting, or an online program.

Might sound a little bit 'out-there' but can't hurt to try, right?

Could You Have a Sleep Disorder?

How to know if you have a sleep disorder

It is estimated that 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder. That might include you.

There is a very real possibility that a sleep disorder in conjunction with chronic pain is keeping you from your best sleep. Talk about a double whammy.

One common sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is particularly important to be aware of because of its potential health consequences (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, oh my!).

OSA is a condition in which a person stops breathing or has reduced airflow hundreds of times per night (scary!). This fragmented sleep leads to daytime sleepiness, headaches, and difficulty concentrating.

OSA leads to poor health by depriving your cells of oxygen and disrupting your circadian rhythm.

Interestingly for pain sufferers, chronic opioid use has been associated with OSA due to disordered breathing patterns. Just one more reason to avoid those bad boys.

If you or your partner snores loudly or gasps for air during sleep, it would be a good idea to get evaluated and treated for sleep apnea.

Mindfulness for Better Sleep: Find Your Zen

How to use meditation for pain and sleep

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of what we are doing right now and not be overwhelmed with what is going on around us. Mindfulness can be cultivated through different types of meditation (seated, moving, standing, lying down).

Do you ever lie awake at night worrying about things like work, family, finances? All that preoccupation makes it difficult to drift off to sleep. Mindfulness can help with that.

There is a lot of current research that has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation provides many benefits to our health including better sleep quality and less pain.

Sounds great, right? Even better, it’s easy to do.

Don’t know where to start with mindfulness meditation? Try the Headspace or Calm apps to explore meditation exercises to help manage stress and anxiety and get on the path to more peaceful sleep.

Sleep, baby, sleep

There are many different things that may be getting in the way of our goal of sleep. The cause may not always be apparent.

The good news is, chronic pain sufferers are not destined for permanent insomnia and staggering through life in a zombie-like state.

Your poor sleep can be as simple as medications you are taking, your afternoon latte, or an underlying medical disorder.

Or, therapy or meditation may be the solution you've been looking for.

Take some time to figure out what works for you. Before long, you will be back to sleeping like a baby!


Shannon Brosek, Copywriter, Nurse
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at
https://shannonthenp.com;;.

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