One night of bad sleep can throw us off for days. It disrupts our energy levels, our ability to think clearly, and even our digestion. People that suffer from insomnia know that when caught in a spiral of poor sleep, stress and fatigue our ability to function the way we would like to is severely limited.
The relationship between pain and sleep is even more complex: pain can keep you up at night or make it very hard to fall as sleep, but at the same time poor sleep can raise the threshold for sensations making your experience of the pain worse than before. A large scale Norwegian study recently examined the connection between pain and sleep disturbance and found that patients reporting problems with both insomnia and chronic pain were more than twice as likely to have a lower tolerance to pain than other chronic pain patients. This study was the first general population study of its kind, calling for a more targeted effort towards sleep improvement in chronic pain patients.
So where do you start? There are a few habits that you can try out tonight to help you break the vicious cycle of pain and poor sleep; addressing both the chicken and the egg. Acknowledging the importance of good rest for your pain management and giving these tips a try are already proactive steps that will set you on a path to improvement.
Find your favorite routine
When you fear that you pain will disturb your sleep, it is common to have anxiety around going to bed. Developing a routine that you enjoy can be a nice distraction and something that you and your body can look forward to. Music, a warm bath, mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises, and light reading all can relax you well before you are tucked in to bed.
Keep it cool
Even as the winter approaches, it is easier to fall asleep if your bedroom is cool. Check that your thermostat is at 65 degrees or lower before you get into bed.
Looking directly into a bright light for most of the day ( computer, smartphone, tablet) disrupts our circadian rhythms making it more difficult to fall asleep at night. It is tough to break the habit of looking at our phones in bed, especially since it can serve as an alarm clock. Yet, avoiding screens for at least 45-60 minutes before closing your eyes can make a huge difference on the time it takes to fall asleep and the quality of the rest we are getting. Is that last text message or email worth a whole night of restless sleep?
Get in a supported position
The Mayo Clinic has a series of photos of helpful positions for sleeping with back pain. These simple recommendations, easily achieved with just a well placed pillow, can protect your back from strain while you sleep.
Wind down naturally
If our system is stimulated it is very difficult for it to find a restful state. Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the later part of the day (after 2pm). This includes, coffee, tea, green tea and chocolate.
Check in with your physician or specialist
If you are not able to break the pain/insomnia cycle it is worth a visit to your doctor to make sure that the pain medications you are taking are not disrupting your sleep and to rule out any other underlying causes.