How to Sleep with Chronic Pain

August 11, 2015 7:42 pm

Managing pain during sleep is a way of life for many people who suffer from chronic back and neck pain. Chronic pain can make sleeping difficult, and some research shows that difficulty sleeping can make pain seem worse. Your doctor may be able to identify the causes of your pain, administer therapeutic treatment for alleviation and educate you on appropriate methods for managing your sleeping pattern. Here are some general techniques that may help chronic pain sufferers sleep more comfortably.

  • Exercise — People suffering chronic pain may be concerned that exercising will worsen their pain. However, remaining sedentary can, in many cases, contribute to further deterioration of physical condition. There may be fitness regimens you can safely participate in under your physician’s guidance. Exercising regularly strengthens muscles, increases flexibility, improves one’s general sense of health and can make falling asleep easier. Your doctor may require that a qualified therapist direct your exercise routine, or may provide a basic modified fitness routine you can do at home.
  • Bed and pillow — Use a mattress that provides appropriate lumbar support. Try out various types at your local mattress store, and invest in one that suits your needs. Use a pillow that provides the most comfortable neck support for you. The pillow should allow your neck vertebrae to lie evenly, not bend too far one way or the other. Avoid pillows that are too firm or soft or thick or thin.
  • Late Night Activities — Engage in an activities you find induce sleep. Read, watch TV, or listen to relaxing music. Avoid looking at your cell phone or any other device that has a backlight. Often, the blue lighting in these devices can reduce melatonin levels, which can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Beverages — Drink hot tea or another warm beverage before bed. Chamomile is popular for relaxation. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and excessive sugar intake.
  • Collateral aids — Stress and muscle tension can contribute to pain symptoms. Try a total body massage or shoulder massage. Inexpensive massagers (available at retail stores) can help relieve tension and promote sleep. Depending on the nature of your back or neck condition, a hot bath or shower, using a hot tub, sauna, steam room, heating pad, or penetrating heat treatment product may provide significant relief. Rather than heat, your physician may determine that cold pack applications are appropriate to provide relief. You should avoid using these heat or cold applications until you have a clear diagnosis of the nature of your chronic condition, and have your doctor’s permission to use these methods.
  • Bedroom use — Avoid spending excessive time in your bedroom. Preserve the room as your oasis for sleep. Don’t allow yourself to work on your bed, as your body will associate your bed with brain activity. Too much time on the bed outside of regular nighttime hours also lends to tossing and turning when it’s time to sleep. This can be due to excessive time spent in one spot or position. Sitting or lying in a limited variety of positions excessively prolongs pressure against the same body areas, which promotes new pain and can make existing pain more pronounced.
  • Get tested for sleep disorder — Chronic pain is more common in individuals who have sleep issues. The connection between pain and poor sleep varies between patients. Insufficient sleep can lower pain tolerance and cause pain symptoms to seem worse.
  • Pain-related sleep problems — For sufferers of fibromyalgia, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetic nerve pain, and for everyone with chronic pain, it’s especially important to focus on proper nutrition and healthy habits. Our pain management doctors can help diagnose these disorders and recommend a treatment plan.
  • Sleep postures — General advice from the Mayo Clinic suggests changing positions to reduce back strain. For sleeping on your side, bring legs up slightly toward the chest and put a pillow between the legs. When sleeping on your back, place a pillow under the knees to keep the lower back curved more normally. Using a small pillow or rolled up towel under the lower back may help by adding more support. Use a pillow for neck support. And, if you must sleep on your stomach, reduce back strain by placing a pillow under the lower stomach and pelvis, and try sleeping without a pillow under your head.

Remember, diagnosing the pain can help solve any sleeping issues you may have, and vice versa. Schedule an appointment with our pain management doctors to help find the source of your discomfort so you can rest easy!