By Liza Zoellick.
We need sleep. It starts from the day we are born, this need for sleep, and continues throughout our lives. There are some times we need more sleep and other times we need less sleep. We all know babies need lots of sleep. We are all familiar with how much sleep teenagers need. It is a restorative function of our body to sleep and repair that which needs repairing. Babies grow a lot and sleep helps aids these small, growing bodies; it’s a lot of work! Sleep also keeps our minds sharp and helps to function at our absolute best. Many things can disrupt our sleep cycle, from caffeine to jobs that interrupt our natural sleep rhythm; and pain is no exception. Pain can delay sleep, it can cause us to have interrupted sleep and chronic pain can lead to insomnia.
Chronic pain and insomnia are a lethal combination. It is said that as many as one in five Americans struggles with this combination at least a few nights a week. Not only does it rob you of needful, body restorative sleep, but the lack of sleep makes you more fatigued and more sensitive to pain. In a study led by Børge Sivertsen, PhD, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Bergen, “People with sleep problems have an increased sensitivity to pain. The effect on pain tolerance appears strongest in people who suffer from both insomnia and chronic pain.” But how do you get this, all important, body repairing sleep, when you are in pain? The first step is: Better Habits.
I know half of you are staring at your screen wanting to smack me, while the other half just rolled their eyes at me and are looking for something more interesting to read. Stay with me a moment, because I am right there with you. I have chronic pain and I’ve balked at people who have tried to give me advice. But the thing about advice is that you don’t have to take it. So, read to the end and no hard feelings if you don’t want to give it a try, but it can’t hurt, and if it does help you will get a few more hours of sleep. I’m also not saying new habits will cure the insomnia or pain and it might not work every night, but I’m definitely the sort who feels “I’ll take what I can get.” More sleep is not a bad thing even if it’s once a week.
Get into the habit of a sleep routine. Pick a fair time to go to sleep and wake up. Before heading to bed try drinking a tea with Chamomile and Lavender. These are both great for relaxation and can help ease you into a sleepy state of mind. Stay away from Valerian if you take narcotics or any other drugs that may cause drowsiness because it can make you excessively sleepy, lethargic or unresponsive. If you can, also get into a routine of taking your pain medication an hour before scheduled bedtime. This will hopefully give you the best chance at pain-free sleep.
Sometimes falling asleep is not the problem, it’s staying asleep. A constant tossing and turning, waking up that leaves us not very rested at all. One thing you can do to help is not reaching for your phone. I know many of us turn to our device to try and distract us from pain and help us get back to sleep, but don’t do it. In fact, your new routine should also include at least one hour before bedtime that you do not have any devices. When you wake up in the middle of the night try to get back to sleep on your own, but if you must get up do not turn any lights on. Keep night lights that will help you see and perhaps a lamp you can keep on a dim setting so that you don’t switch your sleepy brain to awake mode. Try reading a book or magazine for a little while before heading back to bed.
A little meditation to distract the pain away. If you feel that it is the distraction of pain keeping you awake at night try some basic meditation to lull you into sleep. It can be as simple as some breathing exercises and some image guided meditation or even something like music guided meditation. Studies have shown that listening to music can aid in lessening pain and relaxing us enough to sleep. If the idea of learning meditation is too complicated for you there are meditation apps for the phone, I would just suggest that you keep it on a dim, night time setting so if you have to turn it on you won’t jolt yourself awake.
I have been utilizing some of this advice myself and have noticed somewhat of a improvement. I still struggle with pain-somnia, but there are nights where I get more sleep and I am grateful for it.
Liza is a chronic pain warrior from Houston who has been chronicling her journey through chronic pain and illness on her blog: http://lovekarmafood.com. She is a contributor to the National Pain Report.