5 Little-Known Tips for Sleeping With Chronic Pain

If you’re like most people with chronic pain, you struggle with either falling asleep or staying asleep.

Watch: Insomnia and Back Pain Video

woman having trouble sleeping Insomnia and chronic pain are best treated together.
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Pain and Sleeping Problems Need to be Treated Together

This is no small matter, as a lack of sleep can make your chronic pain worse—which may lead to a frustrating cycle of sleeplessness and intensifying pain. Here are 5 little-known tips that may help you break this cycle:

See Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Breaking the Cycle

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1. Only go to bed if you’re feeling sleepy

Simply put, you cannot will yourself to sleep. In fact, focusing on falling asleep often makes matters worse—as you typically end up stressing over the fact that you can’t fall asleep.

See How Does Stress Cause Back Pain?

So then, don’t fret if you aren’t feeling sleepy come bed time—simply engage in a soothing activity. For example, try knitting or reading a book until you feel tired.

Additionally, make sure to leave your bed if you can’t fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes of lying down.

See Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

2. Cool down your room

There is no one temperature that works best for every person, but, as a general rule, you will sleep better in a cool environment. Over the course of a week, try various temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees until you find the one that works best for you.

3. Work up a sweat

It seems counterintuitive, but exercise is typically better for your chronic pain than long-term bedrest. For example, a regular program of low-impact aerobic exercise, stretching, and strengthening promotes your body's natural healing process.

See Strengthening Exercise Program for Low Back Pain Relief

Additionally, exercise can help you feel better both physically and mentally by spurring the release of endorphins.

See Exercise and Back Pain

As a bonus, exercise can make it easier to fall asleep at night—but it’s best to avoid rigorous exercise 4 to 6 hours before your bedtime.

See Easy Exercise Program for Low Back Pain Relief

4. Record your concerns

Your busy schedule may keep your mind preoccupied during the day, but when we lay down to sleep our minds are often flooded with worries.

See Stress-Related Back Pain

If worrying keeps you up at night, the practice referred to as "forced worrying" may help. Interested? Here’s how to do it:

  • A few hours prior to your bedtime, record all your worries in a journal (especially worries related to your chronic pain).
  • After you’re confident that you have written every worry down, put the journal away. Then remind yourself that you will have plenty of time tomorrow to deal with your concerns.

See Psychological Techniques, Sleep Environment, and Better Sleep

5. Adjust your pillow height based on your sleeping position

If you suffer from chronic pain, the right pillow can make a big difference when it comes to falling asleep. Here are some pointers for selecting the right pillow based on your preferred sleeping position:

  • Back sleepers. Your pillow should support the natural curvature of your neck. This means your neck ought to look similar to when you're standing tall with your head up and shoulders back.
  • Side sleepers. If you sleep on your side, you likely need a thicker pillow than back sleepers—as your head should be positioned in the middle of your shoulders.
  • Stomach sleepers. It’s best to avoid sleeping on your stomach, but if you can’t sleep any other way try using an ultra-slim pillow (or no pillow at all).

See Best Pillows for Different Sleeping Positions

There is no guarantee these 5 tips will solve all of your sleep-related problems—but if they can help you sleep even 1 extra hour a night they are worth the extra time and effort.

Learn more:

Sleep Aids for People with Chronic Pain

Using Medication to Manage Pain and Reduce Sleep Problems

Post written by Andrew Moeller