The relationship between sleep and pain is complex. Chronic pain can cause sleep deprivation, and the lack of sleep may heighten the sense of pain, making getting a good night’s sleep almost impossible.
Many patients with back pain also experience sleep deprivation issues. A sleeping disorder associated with chronic back pain should always be addressed as part of a multidisciplinary, chronic pain treatment approach.
Here are four key sleep facts to consider for people suffering from chronic pain.
All sleep is not equal
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. According to recent research at Tel Aviv University, if that sleep is interrupted, it does not provide the physical recharge people need. In an interview for Time, lead researcher professor Avi Sadeh believes several nights of fragmented sleep could have long-term negative consequences equivalent to missing out on slumber altogether.
That’s an important finding for chronic pain sufferers because a separate study by the National Sleep Foundation found people who experience chronic pain average 42 minutes per night less sleep than those with no pain.
Disrupted sleep patterns have profound repercussions during waking hours for patients with pain. Daytime fatigue, depression and a loss of quality of life lead to increased stress.
Long-term sleep deprivation
Prolonged sleep deprivation is linked to health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Other effects of chronic sleep loss reported by psychcentral.com include depression, low stress threshold, impaired concentration, impaired memory, increased appetite and weight gain, decreased creativity and increased risk of accidents.
The combination of chronic pain and lack of sleep can make problems like fatigue and depression seem insurmountable.
Medical expertise is key
To combat pain and sleep loss, it’s important to consult with a medical professional who has experience treating both issues. A very intricate relationship between pain and sleep exists on many levels. Neglecting either disorder in this delicate balance puts the patient — and clinician — at risk for treatment failure.
Many doctors prescribe medication for patients with insomnia. A significant problem, however, is many of the drugs used to aid sleep pose added risks in pain management, including daytime sedation, overdose, abuse and diversion of medication, reports Dr. Forest Tennant in practicalpainmanagement.com.
Exercise helps relieve pain and promotes better sleep. Try some vigorous daily workouts an hour or two before your regular bedtime. Dr. Lissa Rankin, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, offers additional natural suggestions to help improve sleep:
- Establish regular sleep-wake cycles, even on weekends.
- Reduce the noise level and turn off the television and other electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.
- Reserve your bedroom for sleeping only.
- Make your bed a sanctuary. Splurge on high thread count sheets, a comforter, a favorite pillow or a luxury mattress. Surround your bed with flowers and candles.
- Eliminate caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
- Increase light exposure during the day to promote healthy melatonin balance.
- Use breathing and relaxation exercises, such as guided imagery CDs.
- Shut your brain off at night. Don’t work, watch stimulating shows, or engage in thought-provoking activities just before bedtime.
- Eat high tryptophan foods like lean turkey before bedtime.
- Eat foods high in magnesium, such as halibut, almonds, cashews and spinach.
- Eat foods high in vitamin B complex, such as leafy green vegetables, nuts and legumes.
Most importantly, recognize the complexity of the sleep/pain connection. Finding relief is likely to require ongoing efforts between you and medical professionals who understand your specific situation.
The link between chronic pain and sleep deprivation can seem like an endless cycle. The right pain treatment and mix of healthy lifestyle can lead to a better night’s rest.
Dr. Alex Bigham is the owner and CEO of Novocur Pain Management Clinics and has over 18 years of health care experience in private practice and Ambulatory Surgical Center settings. Novocur offers advanced treatment options in a concierge type practice without the concierge price tag. Dr. Bigham appears frequently on local TV and radio programs to discuss the latest in Pain Management or related health topics.