Getting a good night’s sleep when you have chronic pain can be an absolute nightmare. As someone who suffers from chronic pelvic pain, I understand how difficult it is to sleep when you are in pain and trying to figure out how to sleep with chronic pain can be a chore. That’s why I’m here to give to some great tips to help you get some well-needed rest.
Lack of sleep and insomnia can be a major symptom when you have chronic pain or any chronic illness.
There is a lot of tossing and turning, checking the time and general frustration. It can affect your mood, which can also be a trigger for depression and anxiety.
So, how is it even possible to get a good night’s sleep when you have chronic pain?
I spent a long time surviving on just 3-hours of sleep per night, and that was on a good day!
I noticed the impact a lack of sleep was having on my illness. The flare-ups became more frequent and more intense, and I couldn’t allow it to go on any longer.
So, I started researching what I could do to help myself.
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
First, I visited my GP, who predictably provided me with sleeping pills. They helped me fall asleep, but I was still waking up every couple of hours.
And, paired with the strong medication I was taking, I woke up feeling groggy and disorientated. So for me, sleeping pills were not a suitable fit.
After dragging myself around and complaining to my family about how tired I was all the time. I came across an impressive book, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, covering all things related to sleep and dreams.
This book helped me understand sleep a lot more and gave me the push I needed to do more research. I’m so glad I did because I stumbled across some useful tips.
HOW PAIN AFFECTS SLEEP
We all know that sleep is important, that pretty much goes without saying. Sleep affects your emotional wellbeing, cognitive function, and physical health.
Unfortunately, when you have chronic pain, sleep can be scarce.
According to specialists, those who have chronic pain are likely to be sleep deprived or diagnosed with a sleep disorder. As pain “is a trigger for poor sleep, if pain causes poor sleep one night, it is likely to worsen in nights to follow”.
Research has also shown that a lack of sleep can make chronic pain worse. According to researchers in a study reviewing pain,
“Evidence is also accumulating in support of the hypothesis that insomnia contributes to worse pain. At the community level, a few large-scale population surveys have now shown that insomnia is a significant risk factor for the development/maintenance of pain symptoms,”.Nicole K. Y. Tang
A lack of sleep can either have a major impact on the worsening of your pain or can be a tool to help manage the effects of pain.
I know all of this may sound very pessimistic and a tad bit scary.
But after going through research into the expert’s observations and trying out different approaches. I came up with 8 tips that will help you get some much-needed rest.
How to sleep with chronic pain – 8 TIPS TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
1. HAVE A SLEEP SCHEDULE, EVEN ON WEEKENDS!
According to sleep, researchers going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can aid in better sleep. It allows you to get into a routine and get the same amount of sleep each day.
Start off by setting an alarm for both waking up and going to bed. If you are taking pain medication or sleeping aids, try to take them when your bedtime alarm sounds.
We are creatures of habit, so doing this consistently will help your body to get into a routine. Therefore, allowing you to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day.
2. DON’T LIE IN BED AWAKE
If you are awake for over 20 minutes, rather than lying awake worrying, try to focus your energy elsewhere.
Try to do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. I usually grab my coloring book and let my mind drift.
This is something that relaxes me and also takes my mind off of my pain. I highly recommend trying it.
3. WRITE IN A JOURNAL
Not being able to fall asleep can cause worry and also be a major trigger for a pain flare-up. According to sleep specialists, writing in a journal can be a great help.
Writing your worries allows you to address them in a more structured way and help take that major load off your mind.
You can also keep a pain journal to track your pain each day and document any changes. Like how your pain affected your day, change in sensations, use of medication or aids and any notable changes.
This can be useful for your doctor or healthcare provider, as you can have a detailed account of things relating to your illness which can be instrumental in your treatment or even diagnosis.
Download my free chronic pain tracker to help you keep a record of your pain.
4. REMOVE CLOCKS
This was a major one for me!
When we cannot sleep, we tend to keep checking the time and worrying about how much sleep we have left until our alarm sounds.
Remove clocks and try to put your phone where you cannot see it. This will stop you from constantly checking the time and help reduce anxiety and help you fall asleep naturally .
5. ICE, HEATING PAD OR HOT WATER BOTTLE FOR PAIN
With chronic pain, we all have our weapons of choice for managing pain. For me, it’s my hot water bottle. It is really soothing and helps ease some of my pain.
Use ice or heat before bed to help numb pain. Incorporate this into your nightly routine. This can be after a nice hot bath, or after you take your medication.
Find which suits you best but remember to do so safely.
6. ONLY USE YOUR BED FOR SLEEPING
Using your bedroom for watching TV, scrolling on Instagram or just having a lie-in is something we all do, especially when you have a chronic illness.
However, experts say “your bed should be used only for sleep and sex”.
Therefore, when it’s used for anything else, we subconsciously associate our bedroom with being awake and not asleep.
Rest is vital when you suffer from chronic pain or any chronic illness!
Make a comfy space in another room or an area in your bedroom, this can become your chill zone. You can add cute beanbags, comfy chairs or whatever makes you feel most comfortable, especially when in pain.
7. AVOID ALCOHOL AND CAFFEINE
Alcohol shouldn’t be taken with most pain medications, but with some, it is okay.
I know it is tempting to have a nice glass of wine with dinner, or, in the evening, to unwind, especially after having a high pain day.
Trust me, I’ve been there!
But according to specialists, alcohol can disrupt your REM sleep as it causes you to enter lighter stages of sleep. This will probably make you wake up throughout the night when the alcohol effects wear off.
So, avoid drinking alcohol otherwise you won’t get that well needed night’s rest. I’m not saying having a glass of wine in the evening is forbidden, but try to limit it so you can reap the benefits.
Similarly, caffeine is a stimulant that keeps you awake and takes long to wear off. Avoid that late afternoon coffee or that cheeky bar of chocolate in the evening as according to experts it can take 8 hours for the effects to wear off.
Don’t take on too many tasks right until the second you go to bed. Self-care and relaxation are important.
Put your phone on silent and give yourself some well deserved me time, even for just 20 minutes.
Allow some time before bed to do something relaxing like reading a book, putting on a face mask, taking a bubble bath, listening to a podcast or even meditation.
Make this a part of your evening ritual and allow time for your mind and body to wind down.
My favorite part of the day is getting that alone time to slather on a face mask and have a nice bubble bath.
Researching the effects of chronic pain on sleep and using these tips and findings, has had a positive impact on my sleeping patterns.
It took a while to figure out what works for me, and it was hard at first. But now I know what works for me, and they have made a major difference in my quality of sleep.
Now I sleep a lot longer without waking up, and my flare-ups have calmed down a lot!
Let me know what tips you found useful or leave some tips you’ve used to help you get a good night’s rest.