Is Pain Keeping You Awake?

Can having sleepless nights worsen pain? 

The short answer is yes, insomnia can increase stress and worsen pain in those who suffer from chronic pain. 

Chronic pain and insomnia are an unhealthy combination, but all too common.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, chronic pain disturbs the slumber of one in five Americans at least a few nights a week. Whether it’s from a bad back, arthritis, or headaches, chronic pain puts you in double jeopardy: the pain robs you of restful sleep and makes you more fatigued, thus making you more sensitive to pain. But you can start to break this vicious cycle! For chronic pain conditions, what you need is to develop some good sleeping habits.

People with pain also feel less control over their sleep and worry more about lack of sleep affecting their health. They are more likely than others to say environmental factors make it more difficult for them to get a good night’s sleep. These factors include noise, light, temperature and the mattress they sleep on, suggesting that taking greater care of the bedroom environment may be particularly helpful to pain sufferers.

What can you do at home?

Practicing good sleep habits is key to achieving a good night’s sleep.  
Some tips for people with chronic pain are:

Stop or limit caffeine consumption, especially after 2:00 PM.

Stay on a regular sleep schedule – Go to bed at the same time every night and, no matter how the night goes, rise the next day at the same time and remain awake until your planned sleep time. This helps to set your internal sleep clock and enhances the natural sleep drive. 

Avoid afternoon naps or limit yourself to a brief 10 to 20 minute nap in the morning.

Take a warm bath or shower before bed to wind down.

Lull yourself to sleep with relaxation CDs that play a babbling brook, gentle waves, or other soothing sounds. 

Remove all light-producing appliances from your bedroom, including the TV.  If you must have them, choose ones that emit red rather than blue light.  Americans spend an average of 7 hours a day on electronic devices. That is a lot of time staring at blue light. Worse yet, 9 out of 10 Americans admit to reaching for an electronic device at least several nights each week shortly before bedtime. That could be an invitation for insomnia. More so than any other color, blue light messes with your body’s ability to prepare for sleep because it blocks a hormone called melatonin that makes you sleepy.

Use the bedroom for only two things –sleep and sex.

Abstain from consuming alcohol in the evening. It may help you fall asleep, but the effects of a cocktail quickly backfire, disrupting sleep cycles a few hours into the night.

Use a fan or other non-specific white noise machine in your bedroom to dampen street noise or other sounds.

Do not exercise or eat within three hours of going to bed.

Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep abdominal breathing.

Try a “relaxing distraction”. Some relaxation techniques use basic rhythmic breathing meditation; others focus on guided imagery, in which you imagine being in a calm, peaceful location. Find something that appeals to you and helps you fall asleep. You might look for these exercises on CD, or consider group or individual trainings or sleep education sessions.


Read a book in low light.

What about medications for sleep?


In general, we try to avoid treating insomnia with medications because it is a temporary fix.  Similar to alcoholic drinks, medications such as benzodiazepines can disrupt the REM part of the sleep cycle and while you are physically sleeping, the brain doesn’t get a chance to fully recover. We always recommend correcting poor sleep habits first before trying medications. We sometimes recommend the sedative properties of medications such as antidepressants, muscle relaxants, antihistamines or a supplement like melatonin, especially in a time-release formulation.

If you are having trouble, sleeping due to pain or suffer from insomia, tell us at Southwest Pain Management during a office visit

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