Two women who suffer from chronic pain and who work as advocates in chronic pain weren’t surprised to see a story this week that links chronic pain with insomnia. Higher rates of sleep disorders from insomnia to sleep apnea are common in people who suffer from chronic pain.
Researchers measured pain sensitivity in more than 10,000 adults, who were participants in the Tromso Study, an ongoing public health study in Norway that began in 1974.
Out of all of the participants, 10.5 percent had what the researchers considered an insomnia disorder, Live Science reported in May.
For Cynthia Toussaint, who founded and manages For Grace, a non-profit which promotes better care and wellness for women in pain, the sleep issue is critical.
“For those of us with chronic pain, lack of sleep is a recipe for flaring and new injuries,” she said. “Pain is bad enough, but if you’re sleep deprived too, it’s like lighting a match to gasoline. Everything’s harder, more sensitized. A waking nightmare, if you will.”
Darbi Beals Stolk, a former registered nurse who suffers from fibromyalgia and who now works with others, agrees that whether chronic pain causes insomnia or that insomnia worsens chronic pain the lack of sleep is a big problem.
“Most people with chronic pain, including myself, get into a vicious cycle with insomnia. They can’t sleep because of the pain and not sleeping magnifies the pain and causes other physiological problems, such as stresses your immune and digestive systems,” she said.
Dr. Richard Radnovich thinks more focused study on the linkage between pain and insomnia is needed.
“It is possible that researchers were really measuring people’s awareness of sleep – maybe their actual sleep patterns are no different at all; maybe the people that are intolerant to painful sensations are also more intolerant to subtle changes in sleep patterns.”
A follow up study to objectively measure sleep would be helpful to further understand this phenomenon, he concluded.
Radnovich runs a pain clinic in Boise, Idaho which is one of the leading clinical research sites in the nation for treatments for musculoskeletal disorders and pain.
For Darbi Beals Stolk, she tells her fellow pain sufferers to work on good sleep patterns.
“Doing things like having a regular bedtime and wake-up time, keeping the bedroom free of electronics, meditation before bed, and no food for at least two hours before bedtime help the body restore its circadian rhythm,” she said.
The Mayo Clinic describes insomnia and says there are two kinds. Primary insomnia is where inability to sleep is the main problem and secondary insomnia where inability to sleep may be caused by a disease or medication, so it’s more likely that chronic pain inducted insomnia (or vice versa) is secondary insomnia. Insomniacs have difficulty falling asleep, wake up during the night or wake up too early.
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