Chronic Back Pain and Wandering the Halls at 2:00 am

Two-thirds of Spine-health.com's visitors report having sleep problems, but ... so what? Spending the long nighttime hours wincing in pain while wandering from bed, to recliner, to couch, to simply roaming the house, and finally back to bed for one last short bit of sleep. That's the real story. Exhausting. Makes me tired just reading about it.

Recent excerpts from our message board explain the real challenges of sleep problems due to chronic pain:

Can't fall asleep

  • CindyS: "I have a difficult time falling asleep because I just can't get comfortable. Neuropathy in my leg drives me crazy when I am lying down."
  • Dilauro: "Biggest problem I have going to sleep is getting comfortable with my legs. From my hips down I get various degrees of numbness and stabbing pain. The symptoms have been identified as being RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome). In the past year, I've spent about half of the time sleeping on a couch with my legs hanging of the edge (this made sleeping a lot better)… I can sleep for about 4 hours, but then my legs start to bother me."

Can't stay asleep

  • CindyS: "…my neck pain makes it impossible to stay in one position, so once I finally do doze off to lala land, I wake up and then can't go back to sleep… I generally move from bed to couch to recliner to bed, and I am usually able to sleep for a little while in each location, but then when I change positions, I'm awake again... During the day I am busy enough to keep my mind off of it, but night time is the worst."
  • Virg: "When my back is at its worst, nothing and I mean NOTHING really helps me to get a good night's sleep. Lortabs, flexeril, nada. I would go to sleep but it was not a deep and restful sleep. .. I always wake craving a few more hours of shuteye even though there are tons of things I want to accomplish during my day."
  • ErinM: "I was fine until after I got off the narcotics. Then I could actually feel everything. I went for a good six months fighting insomnia, due to pain I could not sleep more than an hour or two and then wake up."
  • Dilauro: "Then there are other nights where I just have to get up of bed and walk around, watch TV, get on the computer for couple of hours. Warm milk doesn't help, De-Caf tea does not help , a glass of port or wine helps get me back to sleep but doesn't keep me sleeping… I am happy with 4 hours of sleep, that's a gem."
  • Mwebb40: "I have two things working against me...I am starting menopause, so I deal with the night sweats and hot flashes. Once those wake me up, then I cannot get back to sleep. I will sleep a total of 6 hours in about 3 days, which with two small kids is not a good thing. Then, if I don't get a good nights sleep, my pain is worse and my numbness in my right leg is less tolerable…I am due to go back to work (after being off for six months) on July 1. I am an RN and need to sleep!! I have an 8 year old and a 4 year old. Life is challenging to say the least right now....sleep would definitely help!"
  • Krazigirl: "I typically ‘sleep' about 5-6 hours / night. Not a bad number, BUT it is never a rested sleep. I wake up every morning feeling like I never went to sleep, or like I caught a short nap. Then, when I wake up, the pain is worse than it was before I went to bed. When I'm not on painkillers before bed, typically I toss and turn all night, waking every couple of hours from sharp pains or throbbing aches."
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Some things do help

  • Krazigirl: "Typically sleep is more restful if I exercise the night before. Swimming, elliptical, or things of that nature that won't irritate my back too much, but wear me out enough to make me sleep soundly. BUT the hard part is getting to the gym because I'm already hurting and don't want to hurt more- so I avoid working out- so it is a vicious cycle."
  • Bion: "Lying awake counting sheep is definitely for the birds and does not work; rather than do this I get up, make myself a hot cup of Milo and come to our study where I spend a couple of hours on the computer before trying out the sleep routine again. I find the no TV rule to be a bit of an old wives tale, for if I lie on our recliner in our lounge in the middle of the night, watching TV, this can happily set me off to sleep at times, but it's not always the answer."
  • Ddenn65: "I take Lunesta for sleep. I can sleep 4 hours, up to 5 1/2 on a good night. It isn't a bad medicine. It works fast."
  • ErinM: "Airborne PM if I feel really jittery helps me, it is a hot drink. So during the colder months I loved it before bed. No caffeine after 2pm has helped me as well. Also the fact that I can actually exercise really helps once you get past the holy-crap-my-muscles-hurt-stage. Now I don't get sore muscles, and it just plain expends some energy and is helping my over all recovery. Yoga has helped me to center myself, learn to relax some, and gain flexibility, which also combats muscle soreness"

And in one sentence...

  • CindyS: "Ahhh, sleep. I can't remember the last time I had a good night's sleep."

My take: Those with such chronic pain often find that sleep is impossible. For me, this signals the reality of the pain – if you're up half the night, you can't be "faking" or exaggerating the pain – it must be bad.

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