Whether it is the inability to fall asleep, to stay asleep for the recommended seven to eight hours, or waking too early (for example, 4 a.m. versus 6 a.m.), chronic pain can cause sleep problems in a number of ways. Lack of sleep can worsen pain, and of course more intense pain then continues to interfere with sleep, so the two symptoms can become a vicious cycle. This makes sleep aids an important component of many treatment plans for people suffering from chronic pain.
It has been estimated that nearly two-thirds of those with chronic pain suffer from a sleep disorder. For those people, there are a variety of sleep aids available to address sleep problems and make it more likely that they will have more restful nights. Typical sleep aids include:
- Adopting habits that facilitate sleep, and condition the body to fall to sleep
- Using psychological techniques that can develop the mental state needed to fall to sleep and stay asleep
- Constructing the right sleep environment to minimize pain, including the right pillow(s) and mattress
- Using appropriate over-the-counter or prescription medication
Changing Behavior is One of the Best Sleep Aids
Eliminating behaviors known to interfere with sleep and adopting actions that can signal the body that it is time to prepare for sleep are both critical aspects of combating sleep problems.
Patients should avoid the following:
- Having caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea or soda within six hours of bedtime, which are stimulants
- Exercising within four to six hours of bedtime, because it can energize the body and require time to recuperate
- Eating too much, or eating spicy foods, close to bedtime because the body will not be as restful while digesting food
- Using alcohol or nicotine, both of which can disrupt sleep
In contrast, activities that alleviate pain and prepare the body for sleep can lead to higher-quality rest. These include:
- Vigorously exercising early in the day, which will help lead to deep sleep at night
- Taking a warm bath in the evening, which can relax muscles
- Stretching for three to five minutes before going to bed, which can loosen joints and make assuming a comfortable position in bed more likely
- Drinking a warm, non-caffeinated beverage about an hour before bedtime, such as warm milk, or herbal tea
In addition, going to bed and waking up at generally the same time every day will help reinforce a ‘sleep cycle’ that the body will recognize and to which it will respond appropriately.