If you live with chronic pain, you know that getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge. The problem is, a lack of sleep often makes pain worse, increases stiffness, and can worsen your mood. And before you know it, you can get stuck in a vicious cycle of pain and sleeplessness! It’s believed that sleep and pain share similar neurotransmitter systems, — that is, special messenger chemicals that transmit signals related to pain and sleep. Since the two are connected, treating one will often improve the other. Here are 12 things you can do to increase your chance of getting good night's sleep:
1. Keep a sleep schedule. A schedule can help regulate your body’s clock so that you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up more refreshed.
2. Evaluate your naps. If you’re sleep deprived, you may feel the need to nap. But napping at the wrong time of day or for too long can cause problems, too. You may wake up feeling groggy or disoriented. Some people, particularly those with insomnia, may find that napping interferes with nighttime sleep.
3. Practice a relaxing bedtime routine. Give yourself enough time to brush and floss, wash your face, etc. If you feel rushed, you may end up going to bed anxious. Consider incorporating relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or listening to instrumental music.
4. Avoid caffeine and heavy meals. Drinking coffee too late in the day can affect your ability to fall asleep. Eating a big or spicy meal can cause indigestion, heart-burn, or a feeling of fullness that keeps you from sleeping. If you’re hungry before bed, try a light snack about an hour before lying down.
5. Take a warm bath or shower to help with muscle aches, joint stiffness, and to relax your body before bed. Doing so in the mornings can also be helpful, especially if you wake up with stiffness.
6. Assess the comfort of your mattress and pillow. How old is your mattress? It may be time to replace it. Most mattresses have a lifespan of 7-10 years. Also, check the height, shape, and level of firmness of your pillow. If it is time to update either, consider visiting your local mattress store and to test out various beds and pillows.
7. Consider herbal and dietary supplements. Some plants and herbs that can help you sleep include chamomile, valerian, lavender, and St John’s Wort. Dietary supplements containing ingredients such as melatonin, valerian, Kava, and L-tryptophan may also help those with insomnia.
8. Exercise regularly. Consult with your doctor on the best exercise routine given your chronic pain, and then begin to incorporate it into your day.
9. Try aromatherapy or essential oils. The olfactory nerve which gives us our sense of smell is connected to parts of the brain responsible for emotions, mood, and memory. Essential oils such as lavender, lemon, bergamot, sage, ylang-ylang, and jasmine, have been found to have calming, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant-like effects.
10. Remove distractions. Let your bedroom be a place of rest. Keep bright lights turned off and remove entertainment such as television or loud music. If space allows, also move your work desk to another area of your home.
11. Treat chronic pain and other underlying health conditions. If pain is making it hard for you to fall or stay asleep, don’t ignore it. Talk to your doctor about how you can better manage pain —be it with medication, physical therapy, diet, exercise, or a combination of these. Also, review the medications you are taking as some may interfere with sleep; opioids in particular are known to cause sleep disturbances.
12. Treat sleep disorders. If after addressing lifestyle changes you are still having difficulty sleeping, talk to your doctor about what else can be done. If a lack of sleep is affecting your health or other areas of your life, your health care provider may want to refer you to a sleep specialist or prescribe a medication that can help you sleep.
This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise and nutrition program.