Dr Robin Correa, Consultant Anaesthetist and Specialist in Pain Management from BMI The Meriden Hospital, offers his top 6 tips for how to sleep better with chronic pain and advises what to avoid.
The relationship between sleep and pain can often be described as ‘chicken and egg’. Sleep can exacerbate pain and pain can disturb sleep.
However, a bad night’s sleep can actually make your pain feel even worse the next day. This can lead to a cycle of disturbed sleep and increased pain which can be difficult to break.
Did you know a quarter of patients with chronic pain also suffer from insomnia1?
A lack of sleep can also hamper the body’s immune response and affect cognitive function. This can cause fatigue and low mood in addition to worsening pain throughout the day.
If you’re struggling with sleep and chronic pain, don’t despair. A wide variety of techniques and sleep aids could be used to facilitate a high-quality night's sleep. You need to be patient when beginning to follow sleep hygiene guidelines as it may take some time to see the full effects of these changes.
Here are 6 tips for a better night’s sleep:
1. Invest in a good mattress and pillow
Although an orthopaedic mattress and pillow is ideal, don’t be afraid to keep changing until you find one that suits you. A good mattress or pillow should support your body without worsening your pain.
2. Keep a consistent bedtime/waking routine
Going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time in the morning helps the body develop a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
As chronic pain develops, you may begin to establish habits which could lead to poor sleep. This could include things such as varying the time you go to bed or staying in bed most of the day.
To combat this, good sleep hygiene needs to be practised regularly just as you might practice good dental hygiene to keep teeth healthy.
3. Maintain a regular schedule
Whether it’s meals, walks or bath times; a schedule is important. The same applies to your sleep schedule. Make sure to go to bed and get up at the same time every day and night.
Following the same routine each evening before bed can train the body to recognise the right time to fall asleep.
4. Relax before bedtime
Try to engage in relaxing activities before you go to bed, such as listening to music or reading a book. Taking a hot bath or shower can also help you to relax your muscles and relieve stress, as well as helping to induce sleep.
5. Try meditation
Meditation, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and deep breathing exercises can also be helpful. Meditation involves being aware of your breath and focusing on the present, which can promote calmness. Helping the mind to relax can also encourage the body to relax, which can make it easier to wind down before bedtime.
6. Sleep medications
If all else fails, sleep medications may be considered. However, this should only be decided after a consultation with your doctor. Medications are also usually used in conjunction with other strategies.
- Here’s what to avoid:
Naps during the day - This will affect your sleep/awake cycle making it difficult to get to sleep at night.
Vigorous exercises within four hours of bedtime - Exercise is usually helpful for most chronic pain conditions but vigorous exercise just before bedtime can affect your sleep.
Use of electronic devices in bed - Glow from these devices can confuse the body about the time of the day.
Caffeine late in the day - Caffeine remains in the body for several hours, and ideally should not be consumed after noon.
Alcohol or limit its use - Although alcohol may help a person fall asleep, it often causes sleep disruptions during the night.
Smoking - People who smoke are more likely to have sleep problems. Smoking is also a risk factor for sleep apnoea, a condition that includes waking multiple times in the night
Chronic pain can have so many implications for daily life, but poor sleep doesn’t need to be one of them. If you feel that you’re suffering from persistent pain and a poor quality of sleep, you should make an appointment with your doctor who can advise the most appropriate course of action.
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