If you are one of the millions of Americans who struggle with chronic pain, then you probably know from your own experiences how much a good night’s rest can help. Unfortunately, most chronic pain sufferers have difficulty getting restful sleep and that only makes their pain symptoms more severe. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that two in three chronic pain patients also have difficulty sleeping, and that those patients average only 6.7 hours of sleep a night. This produces a constant accrual of sleep debt that often exacerbates the underlying pain condition.
The amount of sleep is not the only issue here. For many pain sufferers, the disruptive sleep pattern often produces poorer quality sleep. Only 37 percent of pain sufferers experience “good” or “very good” sleep, suggesting that most must suffer through the day on less than recuperative sleep.
Lack of Sleep Increases Pain Sensitivity
If you have lost sleep and struggled the next day due to greater pain, then you probably aren’t surprised to learn that research has shown that sleep deprivation increases pain sensitivity. One study examined the relationship between REM sleep and fibromyalgia pain. Patients who had disruptions in their REM sleep also experienced heightened fibromyalgia pain.
Sleep is an essential physiological function that helps people heal. A sleep apnea study found that those patients who experienced interruptions in their sleep had greater difficulty recovering from injuries or surgeries, and the pain from those traumas was intensified. Without deep, restful sleep, the pain may not only feel stronger, but may persist longer due to an extended recovery period.
How to Treat Pain-induced Insomnia
It may appear logical that using painkillers to treat chronic pain would also produce better sleep, but the reality is that powerful medications can inhibit restful sleep. A 2015 study reported that less than a third of patients who took pain medication had good or very good sleep, while almost half of those who never took pain medication reported having good or very good sleep. Similarly, only a third of chronic pain sufferers that took a sleep medication had good or very good sleep, while 58 percent that went without had good or very good sleep.
If you are suffering from pain-induced insomnia, consult your physician. In many cases, opioid painkillers may disrupt natural sleep patterns or cause night-time breathing issues, so your physician may recommend pain medications specifically designed to help you sleep. You may find that an alternative drug that induces more restful sleep is more effective for you than an extremely powerful painkiller.
Your doctor may also recommend some lifestyle changes that will improve your sleep. Avoid chemical stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, especially later in the day. You should also make a habit of going to bed at a similar time, preceded by few distractions like television. Finally, if you fail to respond to these other changes, your physician may ask you to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy which helps you control negative thoughts that may impair your ability to fall or stay asleep.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.