8 Ways For Effective Sleep Hygiene When Dealing With Chronic Pain


We dare you to find a person that has never had a restless night of sleep. We think you can agree with us that finding such a lucky person would be quite a daunting task. With that being said, we have all had the occasional night where we just can’t fall asleep. A night or two, although annoying, hardly causes us to become alarmed. Nonetheless, for those suffering from a chronic illness, a couple of nights without sleep can wreak havoc on pain symptoms as well as their overall quality of life. Unfortunately, it is simply not just a couple of nights that individuals with chronic pain have to deal with. Not getting a good night’s rest generally leads to exacerbated pain symptoms where hyperalgesia (intensified pain) may keep someone from falling asleep at night. Said another way, pain worsens sleep patterns and sleep disturbances worsen pain. It is worth noting that chronic pain patients are all too familiar with sleep disorders where more than 66% of patients experience problems. Such a rancorous cycle could lead to a chronic inability to fall asleep, which could result in insomnia or other sleep disorders.

What Exactly Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a general clinical term that refers to the difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep that occurs for at least three nights a week for up to 3 months in a given year. It may present as an independent problem (primary insomnia) or as part of a coexisting medical or psychiatric condition (secondary insomnia). Insomnia is known to cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, educational, academic, behavioral, or other important areas of functioning; thus it is important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you find yourself meeting this criteria. Fortunately, in many cases insomnia can be reversible and can greatly reduce someone’s sleep-deprived pain symptoms. We will not go into too much detail but there are a number of treatments that can truncate symptoms of insomnia. However, it is very important to consult your physician to determine if the actual cause of your inability to sleep is from insomnia or from another sleep disorder that has yet to be ruled out. For example, sleep disorders caused by medication side effects, psychiatric disorder, or sleep apnea should all be considered as to why are not able to sleep.

Chronic Pain & Insomnia: A Catch-22

One form of treatment that we would like to discuss is the use of medications. Certain pain medications can in fact improve sleep and generally are prescribed for patients who have both a sleep disorder and a specific pain disorder. On the other hand, opioid pain medications can disrupt sleep and prevent patients from entering deep sleep after as little as one dose. Opioid pain medications can also cause sleep-related breathing disturbances. This is why it is crucial to consult with your doctor as to what the underlying cause is for your inability to sleep where a more precise treatment plan can be created.

Creating A Healthy Sleep Environment

Below are 8 ways that have been found to be effective in creating proper sleep hygiene where the first 6 are relatively easy to implement. We go into further detail about the last two in the hopes of furthering your understanding of these practices. As with any of these tips, please consult your doctor before implementing any of these.

  1. Use your bedroom only for sleeping. Avoid using your bedroom as an office, a place to eat, or a place to socialize.
  2. Only go to bed when you are sleepy.
  3. Watch caffeine and alcohol intake, especially after noon.
  4. Try to do physical activity earlier in the day.
  5. Try to wake up at the same time every day regardless of when you go to sleep the night before.
  6. Avoid naps during the day
  7. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

As we mentioned above, medications are a very critical vehicle for alleviating symptoms of insomnia and pain. Nonetheless there does exist a therapy treatment that is just as effective as medications in the long-term and does jot have the side effects that may accompany medications. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that has been shown to be highly effective in treating insomnia. CBT is comprised of a number of strategies that seeks to improve overall sleep quality as well as changing thought and behavior patterns that are assumed to interfere with sleep. CBT accomplishes this by helping patients control or eliminate negative thoughts and worries that keep them awake. Through CBT work there is an increased awareness of thoughts related to sleep and once controlled, they tend to decrease and it is easier for the patient to fall asleep. Numerous studies have shown that cognitive behavioral interventions are as effective as pharmacological treatments in the short term and more effective in the long term.

  1. Relaxation Therapy

Another strategy is relaxation training, which is used to reduce or eliminate muscle tension and distract one from racing thoughts. Relaxation therapy is useful for both sleep onset and sleep maintenance insomnia. Techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and autogenic training; to name a few. Regardless of the type of relaxation strategy used, the treatment involves professional guidance and the teaching of these skills over a number of sessions.

Do your best to adopt one or any of these stress-management strategies to reduce the anxiety or other emotional disturbances associated with your lifestyle. Doing so will be your best bet in keeping sleep-deprived pain symptoms at bay. Again, we must stress to please make sure that you receive treatment for any medical, psychiatric, or other conditions that may interfere with your sleep. What tips have helped you create healthy sleep hygiene? Let us know!

Tags: alcohol, caffeine, CBT, chronic pain, insomnia, pain management, sleep, sleep hygiene


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