For those who deal with chronic pain, the symptoms are hard enough to cope with when you’ve had a good nights sleep, but it’s a whole different ball game with not much sleep under your belt. And once the cycle starts, it keeps going and going – no sleep —> can’t cope with pain —> no sleep again and worsening of pain due to lack of rest and anxiety etc.
I for one am really struggling with painsomnia at the moment. It is incredibly difficult to drift off when I am in intense pain and impossible to relax and get comfortable. Even when I do manage to sleep I never seem to be able to get into a deep sleep and wake frequently. When I am not well rested my pain feels so much worse, whether that’s because it is worse because I haven’t been able to physically rest my body or whether it just feels worse because I am less able to cope on less sleep, or both I don’t know. In addition to the pain keeping me up, medications also have a tendency to cause insomnia. I started taking a new medication (duloxetine) the other day and for the last few nights I’ve not managed to get to sleep before 5am due to nasty side effects.
Sleep is so important in managing chronic pain and illness. Most adults need about eight hours of sleep a night. During those hours we go through sleep cycles which are divided roughly into 90 minute segments. We start out in stages of non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, then we enter stages which are deeper, more healing and renewing. The final segment is the deepest sleep which is REM sleep. This is the more restful state of sleep and the one in which we dream. After achieving these five stages we then do it all over again. Because chronic pain sufferers frequently awaken with pain, their deep healing sleep is interrupted if achieved at all.
There have been some interesting studies performed about sleep deprivation/insomnia in healthy individuals. One study found after only one night with poor sleep (when individuals were kept awake until 3am), they had chemical changes. Those changes included increases in inflammatory chemicals such as those the body produces in autoimmune diseases. And that was in healthy individuals so who knows what lack of sleep does to those who already suffer from autoimmune illnesses and chronic pain?!
There are ways to treat sleep problems without medication – but it’s extremely hard work and takes time and persistence. I am guilty of not practising the best sleep hygiene in the world. I often watch netflix (I am currently watching Once Upon A Time – its highly addictive!), reply to emails or scroll through twitter before bed. And when I turn off the light I don’t feel the slightest bit sleepy, I feel stimulated and my brain is buzzing with ideas and thoughts. I went through a phase a while ago of doing mindfulness every night which did help but recently I have not been consistent with it. There are things that I have found helpful over the years I have suffered from insomnia which I want to share with you…
My tips to improve sleep hygiene naturally
– Write down your thoughts/anxieties before you go to sleep such as potential blog posts, worries about the future, shopping lists etc
– Switch off your TV, mobile, laptop about an hour before bed
– Listen to relaxing music
– Have half an hour of quiet time doing medication or reading
– Use earplugs to cancel out any noise that may disturb you
– Stick to switching your light off at the same time every night to get into a routine
– Aviod stressful situations before bed – arguments, or big decisions can wait until the morning when you’re fresh and more rational
– Have a cup of calming camomile tea with some manuka honey
I know, I know… I should practice what I preach. So from today onwards I am going to be strict with myself and try and practise better sleep hygiene to give my body the bet chance possible at nodding off.
Do you suffer from painsomnia? Have you found anything that helps?
Good Luck! Sweet Dreams! x