Updated at: 23-02-2022 - By: Jane Brody

Chronic pain sufferers know all too well how difficult it can be to sleep at night. Chronic pain affects one out of every five Americans, according to the 2015 Sleep in America survey by the National Sleep Foundation. One in four chronic pain sufferers also suffer from a sleep disturbance, according to a recent study.

There appears to be a reciprocal association between sleep and pain. Even a good night’s sleep can help reduce some people’s problems. Prioritizing sleep for persons with chronic pain may be an important part of the rehabilitation process.

What Is Pain?

One of the most common ways in which we feel pain is when nerves send a signal to our brain indicating that something is amiss. Acute pain is different from chronic pain.

A broken bone that takes time to heal is an example of short-term acute discomfort. Recurring or long-term pain, such as that caused by fibromyalgia, arthritis, or cancer, is what we mean when we talk about chronic pain.

Several factors, including physical health, mood, and the cause of the pain, influence how the brain perceives pain. Pain might disrupt sleep if it occurs at night. Chronic pain sufferers may experience long-term sleep loss.

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Common Sleep Disturbances in Those With Chronic Pain

When it comes to the way chronic pain affects sleep, there are several variables to consider. Certain sleeping positions can set off symptoms of certain illnesses. It’s possible that some people suffer from nighttime agony that doesn’t subside. Additionally, a hospital or long-term care facility may have extra difficulties, such as a noisy setting or an uncomfortable bed.

Chronic pain might cause numerous overnight awakenings in addition to a decreased overall sleep period. When it comes to chronic pain sufferers, insomnia appears to be the most common sleep complaint.

Light, slow-wave, and REM sleep are all stages of sleep that we go through during the night. We require a good mix of various sleep stages, notably slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, in order to feel refreshed. A less peaceful night’s sleep and fatigue the following day are the results of breaking this cycle.

Some persons with chronic pain have sleep abnormalities, such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, in addition to the pain. Taking medication to treat pain or a long-term disease can have side effects that make it difficult to fall asleep at night. There is a strong correlation between pain and mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, or depression. As part of an overall health plan, many illnesses might cause sleep issues on their own.

How Does Pain Affect Sleeping Positions?

Your sleeping position may be determined by the type of pain you are experiencing. Those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the hips, knees, and shoulders, should avoid sleeping on their sides.

Sleeping on one’s stomach or back might be dangerous for those who are sensitive to pressure buildup in the lower back. For others, a mattress and pillow intended to reduce pain by reducing pressure points and supporting the spine’s natural curve may be an option.

Multiple sclerosis, for example, can cause widespread pain. In order to avoid tingling and numbness caused by these diseases, persons may need to change their sleeping positions often. These people may require a mattress that responds better to movement on top of it, such as a memory foam model. Allow a caregiver or bed companion to assist you if you are having difficulty changing positions on your own.

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How Does Sleep Affect Pain?

New evidence reveals that sleep has a greater impact on pain than pain has a greater impact on a person’s ability to sleep.

The next day, those with chronic illnesses such rheumatoid arthritis have reported increased sensitivity to pain due to poor sleep quality, fragmentation, and short sleep duration. The likelihood of acquiring fibromyalgia or migraines appears to be higher among people who have difficulty sleeping. Many studies have shown that quality sleep might help alleviate chronic pain.

There appears to be a correlation between the pathways and neurotransmitters involved in sleep and pain. It’s well known that the hormone melatonin helps us sleep and is now being studied to see if it might also affect how we perceive pain. Inflammation in the immune system is also caused by a lack of sleep, which has a negative impact on our body’s ability to recover. Dopamine and vitamin D have been linked to sleep and discomfort.

Studies on the impact of sleep deprivation on our pain threshold and the brain’s ability to control pain have produced mixed results. Depending on the disease and the type of sleep deprivation, it’s possible that sleep affects pain in different ways.

Sociodemographic factors may play a role in a person’s ability to cope with sleep disturbance and pain. A number of studies have shown that women are more sensitive to insomnia-induced pain than males, while young people have greater pain tolerance than the elderly.

Chronic pain sufferers may experience daytime weariness. To get a decent night’s sleep, they may not be able to exercise regularly or eat healthily because of their condition. Chronic pain can also disrupt the sleep of a spouse who shares a bed, which can have negative effects on both of their health and their quality of sleep.

Children and adults with chronic pain both complain of sleep problems, and those who suffer from sleep problems also experience more severe pain and larger degrees of disability. Researchers believe this connection is due in part to psychological reasons, despite the fact that sleep definitely has its own independent role.

What Is the Connection Between Sleep, Pain, and Mental Health?

Insomnia, sadness, and/or anxiety are all common symptoms among those with chronic pain. Someone who is in pain and can’t sleep may get nervous. Because of their increased sensitivity to pain, they may have trouble sleeping or wake up feeling happy. So they can’t sleep the next night, and the cycle repeats itself. If left unchecked, this toxic concoction could exacerbate preexisting diseases and aggravate a person’s level of disability.

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Catastrophizing appears to be one of the most significant psychological elements. An osteoarthritis study indicated that catastrophizing is linked to poor sleep quality and a more active central nervous system, which suggests that catastrophizing increases pain.

An estimated one-third of those who suffer from chronic pain also fulfill the criteria for clinical depression, according to research. Chronic pain patients with depression appear to have higher pain levels, poorer sleep hygiene, and a more difficult time turning off their brains at night on the whole.

Patients with chronic pain can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and, to a lesser extent, cognitive behavioral therapy for pain (CBT-P). In persons with chronic pain and a comorbid disease such as anxiety or depression, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of CBT-I. Patients recuperating from trauma who pay close attention to sleep quality and catastrophizing tend to have a lower risk of developing chronic pain.

A person’s perception of pain is influenced by a wide range of factors. The intensity of our pain is influenced by a variety of factors, one of which is our own psychological state. However, this does not indicate that the pain is not real, but it may necessitate a multidimensional strategy that takes into account the different and complicated psychological variables involved.

Tips and Coping Strategies to Get Sleep When Dealing With Pain

Because chronic pain makes it difficult to fall asleep, it’s crucial to prioritize sleep. A chronic pain sufferer’s sleep deprivation might lead to an unhealthy relationship with sleep. For example, if they know they will have difficulties sleeping, they may rely on caffeine or grow anxious in the hours leading up to night. Learning how to sleep when in pain begins with retraining your brain to think and act in a healthy way.

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The pain may be simpler to deal with if you use deep breathing, mindfulness practices, or guided visualization. The central nervous system is stimulated by pain, which makes it difficult to fall asleep. To be effective, these methods must enable you to detach from the pain and instead encourage you to relax.

Getting your body ready for sleep can be as simple as following some basic guidelines for good sleep hygiene. Make sure you receive enough sunlight, exercise early in the day, and eat a nutritious food in order to obtain a good night’s sleep. Keep screens, coffee, and alcohol away from your bedroom at night. Meditation can help alleviate discomfort and improve sleep quality.

Avoid carrying the stresses of the day into the bedroom if you want to break the cycle of negative thinking. The bedroom is supposed to be a peaceful retreat where people go to sleep and have sex. Always sleep with the lights out and your bedroom door closed at the same hour every day. Having a bath, brushing your teeth, reading a light book, and then turning out the light may help you get to sleep.

If you can’t sleep because you’re thinking too much or are in discomfort, get out of bed. Distract yourself for a time by getting up and moving around the room. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, get up and try again later.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or dealing with pain, seek the advice of a physician or other mental health expert. If you’re having trouble sleeping, go to your doctor. He or she may be able to provide medicine or suggest other treatments.
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