Combating Sleep Problems Associated With Chronic Pain

sleep pain chronicSleep for individuals with chronic pain is often a major struggle. Unfortunately, just like the cause of pain itself, it is a difficult and multifaceted problem with different issues contributing to sleep struggles. Pain and discomfort at night are the leading complaints, but often it is more complicated and usually not a simple issue to solve.

Underlying medical problems may also be contributing to sleep disturbances, and not addressing these may prevent adequate solutions. Addressing sleep problems often requires intervention from multiple specialists.

The Importance Of Sleep Hygiene

Sleep problems can range from simple to complex problems. Starting with the simple issues is always important. First is trying to discover what are the difficulties with sleep and what habits and patterns for sleep occur with a person. Sleep hygiene is one of the leading areas of problems. One of the most common problems is the consumption of caffeine or similar stimulants during the day. Most people are sensitive to caffeine, and it is found in many drinks, especially various sodas and teas. Drinking these after the lunch hour for many can affect sleep. The use of alcoholic beverages can also interrupt sleep, initially it may make one tired, but as it wears off, the body awakens and one may be running to the bathroom.

Sleep hygiene also includes the habits one has in the bedroom. Currently, the most common problem is screen time including computers, tablets, television and phones prior to sleep. Watching a screen tends to activate the brain and wake a person up, and the color spectrum produced with lots of blue light is also awakening. Turning off the all the screens one hour before bedtime is advised. The bedroom should be reserved for sleep. Doing work in bed and spending time in bed not sleeping gives the brain the wrong signals to stay awake. Lastly, most people sleep better in a cool room, being to warm leads to restlessness.

Your Mattress and Sleep

The most common question that is asked to me is should I get a new bed and what bed should I get? Anyone who has shopped for a bed knows this is an expansive proposition. Before buying a new bed, try to get everything right in the bedroom first, from the room temperature to the sleep hygiene. If the bed is old, first try a mattress topper with 3-4 inches of quality memory foam. A good topper is far cheaper then a full mattress and may be perfect solution. A new bed is only needed if your mattress is ancient and beyond salvage.  

Since beds can be extremely expensive, start with determining your budget and then look at your options from memory foam mattresses to adjustable air bladder types like the Sleep Number bed. The mail order memory foam mattresses are often extremely affordable, comfortable and are reported to be a good quality. Everyone has a different preference for a bed, but if it is rock hard, it will not provide uniform body support and probably cause more pain. A bed that is too soft will probably also be uncomfortable and not provide adequate support to the body. The first recommendation would be try a memory foam type mattress for a new bed. If your budget is less constrained, the ability to change a bed’s hardness and support with an air bladder type bed is wonderful. Adjustable bed frames that can raise the head or feet is a further luxury.

The last issue with chronic pain and sleep is once you have optimized the sleep environment, what else can be done? The first concern is to see if there another medical concern preventing sleep. A sleep specialist often best evaluates these issues, and those who are neurologists often have the broadest understanding of all the issues. They can address problems from restless legs, sleep apnea to interrupted sleep by pain. They can be extremely helpful in determining the best medication routine for improving sleep. If a safe simple solution is not working, a sleep specialist is extremely important in determining the path forward.

Chronic Pain Makes It Hard To Fall And Stay Asleep

Chronic pain makes it hard for patients to fall and stay asleep, and studies show pain sufferers are getting almost an hour less of sleep each night because of their discomfort.

According to the “2015 Sleep in America” poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, chronic pain plays a big role in how much and the quality of sleep people get. According to the study:

  • Chronic pain caused 57 percent of Americans a “significant loss of sleep.”
  • People with chronic pain said they got 42 fewer minutes of sleep than they needed each night.
  • People with chronic pain were more likely to blame their difficulty on other sleeping factors, like noise, light, temperature and mattress problems.

The biggest issue facing people with chronic pain was that it’s a cyclical battle. Pain makes it harder to fall and stay of sleep, and lack of sleep exacerbates chronic pain symptoms.

Chronic Pain Sleep

Tips For Falling Asleep With Chronic Pain

Falling asleep with chronic pain is no easy task, but there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of falling and staying asleep. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Stick to a Routine – Going to bed at 8:30 one night, 10:00 the next night and 11:45 on the weekend is a good way to throw your sleep rhythm out of whack. We know you might stay up later on the weekend, by strive for consistency during the work week.
  • Remove Distractions – The bedroom should be a place for sleeping, not a place you go to watch Netflix and read your Kindle for an hour before bed. Do those activities in another room so your body gets used to falling asleep faster when you’re in bed.
  • Keep it Dark – Similar to the above point, iPads, Kindles and televisions are bright objects that signal to your brain that you’re not yet ready to fall asleep for the night. Remove those electronics, close shades and turn off all lights, because it’s easier to stay asleep and fall back asleep in a dark environment.

Pain Making it Hard To Sleep? We Can Help

Sleep PainPain often causes sleep problems. In patients with chronic pain, sleep problems occur in over 50 percent of patients. Problems with sleep can worsen pain and affect your whole life. Patients will often feel rundown, tired, depressed and very stressed. Relationships with your family, your spouse, and at work may be affected. Solving the issue if a complex process, and it won’t happen overnight.

4 Pain-Related Sleep Problems

Sleep problems can be divided into four categories:

  • Pain making it difficult to fall asleep
  • Chronic pain causing frequent awakening during the night
  • Pain may prevent restorative deep sleep
  • Waking up too early each morning because pain makes it impossible to fall back asleep

Each type of problem may need a different solution, and patients often experience more than one of the above conditions. The first step in treating the issue is by practicing good sleep hygiene. Activities that cause problems prior to sleeping include drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol. Alcohol may initially cause tiredness but later in the night often disrupts sleep cycles.

Exercising late at night is another no-no. Exercise will help keep you awake, and napping during the day may also lead to decreased tiredness. The bedroom should be considered place only for sleeping and not for watching TV or doing work-related activities. The bedroom should be considered a calming and relaxing place.

Physician Treatment

When the simple things and conservative treatment does not help improve sleep, working with your physician for a more comprehensive treatment strategy is beneficial. A sleep study is often especially helpful in determining the issues that are preventing good sleep, and they can help formulate a plan to combat the problem. Multiple medications are available to help with sleep, but many can actually interfere with parts of this sleep cycle. Narcotic medications and older antidepressants may help with pain at night but often interfere with portions of the deep sleep cycle. Newer medications like Ambien and Lunesta are helpful in allowing the patient to fall asleep, but may not be helpful to keep a person asleep. Recently, melatonin at doses of 5-10 mg has been found to be helpful in maintaining good sleep cycles and reducing pain. Sleep studies can also be helpful to determine other medical problems that need to be treated to improve sleep.

Chronic pain often interferes with sleep, and poor sleep can lead to worsening pain. Improving sleep at night can often greatly improve the quality of life. Sleep problems can be simple, but often with chronic pain they are complex. A sleep study is sometimes needed to determine all problems associated with the lack of sleep. The solution to a good night sleep may require multiple changes and routines. The help of a pain specialist or a sleep expert may be necessary to find the right solution.