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Published on July 03, 2013

Woman holding head in pain while laying in bed

Is Pain Interrupting Your Sleep?

After reading a recent article about pain and how it affects sleep, the information prompted me to write about the relationship individuals experience with pain and sleep. Whether it’s from a sore lower back or throbbing tooth, pain is hard enough to deal with during the light of day. But pain at night can rob you of much-needed sleep and can be downright exhausting. If an individual can’t get comfortable to fall asleep due to discomfort can cause pain and anxiety, which will disrupt sleep even more. In addition to preventing a person from falling asleep, pain also results in difficulty staying asleep. If this happens once, it is likely to continue Pain-related insomnia can become worse over time.

If pain keeps you up, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, two out of three people with chronic pain have trouble sleeping.

  • Pain at night disrupts sleep architecture. Sleep architecture is composed of light sleep, deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Normal sleep includes four to six cycles of these stages per night. When pain wakes you up, you spend too much time in light sleep and that may increase your sensitivity to pain throughout the night.
  • Sleep deprivation makes you more sensitive to pain. A study in the April 2009 issue of Sleep Journal showed that normal, healthy individuals are more sensitive to pain when sleep deprived.
  • Pain medications interrupt sleep. Some pain medications, such as codeine and morphine, can cause insomnia.
  • People with chronic pain may have trouble exercising. Lack of exercise leads to weight gain. Increased weight then restricts exercise, which leads to more pounds gained.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the types of pain that most commonly cause insomnia are back pain, headaches and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, which causes pain around the ears and jaw muscles. Musculoskeletal pain, including arthritis and fibromyalgia, can also cause sleep problems. Cancer pain, resulting from the disease itself and treatment, also leads to trouble sleeping. Pain that follows surgery can also prevent much needed rest.

Research shows that there are more commonalities than differences between types of pain when it comes to insomnia. A few of the nuances researchers have identified include the following:

  • The intense nature of pain after surgery and other acute pain seems to affect both the length and quality of sleep.
  • Chronic arthritis pain appears to interfere with circadian rhythms (24 hour cycle).
  • With fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes joint and muscle pain, there are constant bursts of “awake” brain activity which prevents deep sleep.

How to Get the Sleep You Need

  • Calm yourself with meditation or other relaxation techniques. Gentle massage is also beneficial for both insomnia and chronic pain.
  • Exercise the right way. Regular exercise can improve both pain and sleep issues. With pain, the best exercise is moderate and low-impact. Try walking, yoga or swimming.
  • For go daytime naps or limit yourself to a brief 10-to 20-minute nap in the afternoon.
  • 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.
  • Abstain from 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.
  • Run a fan or other non-specific white noise machine in your bedroom to dampen street or other sounds.
  • Avoid caffeine, which disrupts sleep patterns; if you must have a caffeine boost, enjoy it before noon.
  • Do not exercise or eat within three hours of going to bed.

If pain is preventing you from getting a good night sleep, make an appointment with your health care provider.

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