Chronic pain is a problem for about 15% of the adult population, according to some scientific studies. Among older adults, though, the National Sleep Foundation reports that over 50% experience chronic pain. Sadly, chronic pain and sleep are inextricably related: about two-thirds of individuals who experience chronic pain report that they sleep badly. Treating chronic pain and sleep problems together can be tricky, since some pain medications, including morphine and codeine, negatively impact sleep. If chronic pain is affecting your sleep, speak with your doctor so that they can assist in choosing a therapy that will have the least impact on your sleep.
Understanding the Connections
Sometimes pain impacts sleep because pain throughout the night causes you to wake up, or shift from deeper levels of sleep to lighter, less-beneficial levels of sleep. Chronic pain can create insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Unfortunately, not only can pain disrupt sleep, but poor sleep can make pain feel worse. Over time, lack of sleep because of chronic pain can create terrible cycles of fatigue and insomnia. It’s very important to communicate these problems to your doctor, before one of these cycles becomes established.
The Culprits of Chronic Pain
When people struggle with sleep because of chronic pain issues, often they are suffering from back pain, headaches, or musculoskeletal pain, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Women sometimes experience chronic pain and accompanying sleep disruptions due to abdominal pain or premenstrual cramping. Pain from disease, or treatments related to disease, can also create chronic pain and sleep issues.
Sleep, Pain, and Physical Activity
Sleep and wakefulness occur in cycles. This means that if you’re able to get enough sleep, there’s a better chance that your body will welcome physical activity the following day. Even light activity, such as walking, can help your body sleep at night. Gentle activities, such as stretching, yoga, or walking, can help keep your body balanced and healthy. Getting enough sleep, and some light exercise, can be a factor in managing your body’s chronic pain. In one 2014 sleep study, reported by PsychCentral, participants who got enough rest and engaged in light activity reported lower pain levels the next morning.
Managing Chronic Pain and Sleep
Researchers believe that aggressively managing sleep disturbances caused by such things as chronic pain, can have positive benefits outside of merely improving sleep quality. That’s because people who get sufficient sleep are often healthier than those who don’t get enough sleep. Although scientists are still trying to determine the best way to tackle chronic pain and sleep, and determine whether improving sleep can help reduce chronic pain, researchers are very interested in a type of therapy called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies, or CBT. Special therapies to help people address chronic pain and sleep separately might create opportunities for addressing the way these factors interact together. If you’re interested in learning more about CBT and whether it’s the right choice for you, contact your sleep therapist or clinician to learn more.
Pain and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation: http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/pain-and-sleep
Sleep Medicine Review, U.S. National Library of Medicine. How do sleep disturbance and chronic pain inter-relate? Insights from the longitudinal and cognitive-behavioral clinical trials literature: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15033151