Chronic pain is a debilitating aspect of life that involves discomfort, inflammation, and other chronic illnesses that impact everyday life. Not only does chronic pain impact daytime function, but also negatively impacts the bodies' ability to go to sleep. Here is some information on what pain is, common sleep disturbances, and some coping strategies to deal with pain in order to sleep better.
What is pain?
Pain is an unpleasant sensation that we experience when our nerve receptors send a signal to the brain that something is wrong. Pain can be acute, like when you first injure yourself, or chronic, where the pain is lingering. Acute pain eventually heals and may have a short impact on your quality of life.
However, chronic pain lasts longer than a few months without an inciting or recurrent cause such as lower back pain, recurrent headaches, fibromyalgia, arthritis or cancer pain.
Pain can also influence our sleep depending on its location and severity. Pain in the lower back can keep us from sleeping in certain positions comfortable, and intense joint pain can be too disruptful for good quality sleep.
Common sleep disturbances in those with chronic pain
Sleep may be impacted by chronic pain in a multitude of ways. This includes environmental disruption from noisy places like hospitals and long-term care facilities. It also can be from pain so severe, that it impacts your ability to transition into stage 3 and REM sleep. Without stage 3 and REM sleep, our sleep quality is so poor that it leads to restlessness and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Even medications can have side effects that impact sleep or pain can lead to disorders like restless leg syndrome that can also negatively impact the quality of sleep. Sleep can also impact sleeping positions. Joint pain can be exacerbated by certain positions, but other positions that relieve that pain may not be comfortable enough for sleep.
Other conditions like multiple sclerosis can cause diffuse pain that can lead to increasing movement and position switches during the night, which also leads to poorer sleep.
Link between chronic pain and mental health
Chronic pain can also lead to mental health changes. There is this self-perpetuating cycle of pain and insomnia and depression or anxiety. Anxiety of pain or depression about the amount of pain may negatively impact one's ability to get good sleep, as they will lie awake, avoiding the pain of a poor night's sleep.
Then the lack of sleep also contributes to mental health disorders and mood instability, creating a vicious cycle of pain, depression, and sleep deprivation. The lower quality of life of those in chronic pain and who also have an inability to get good sleep may contribute to increased feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Coping strategies for improved sleep
Those who are permanently sleep deprived due to their chronic pain may have an unhealthy relationship with sleep. There is a fear and avoidance that comes with the idea of another night of restless sleep.
In order to calm these feelings, it's essential to have positive coping skills that help to keep hope elevated, as well as relieve those disruptive feelings of anxiety and depression. There are a few techniques that may assist with this including:
- deep breathing or mindful meditations
- creating sleep hygiene strategies
- creating a calm and inviting bedroom environment
- avoid rumination and busy yourself with something else until tired enough to fall asleep quickly
If you are still having a lot of difficulty falling asleep, please talk with a professional as well as click the orange box below for a free online sleep test.