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  • Writer's pictureHannah Foster-Middleton

Chronic pain and the hijacked sleep

Is your chronic pain keeping you up all night and bringing you closer to what we call insomnia? Chronic pain and insomnia are an unhealthy combination. When you’re enduring such pain, then the nights are more excruciating than the days because when your body is at rest and in the immobile state then it can make your mind more alert and cause you to focus on the pain, which makes it harder to relax and drift off to dreamland.

Of all medical conditions, pain is the number one cause of insomnia. A lack of restorative sleep hampers the body’s immune response and can affect cognitive function. Thus, a vicious cycle develops in which the chronic pain disrupts one’s sleep, and difficulty sleeping makes the pain worse, which in turn makes sleeping more difficult. The term “insomnia” includes all types of sleeping problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and waking up earlier than desired. A disrupted sleep will, in turn, exacerbate chronic pain and for people with chronic pain, trouble falling asleep is one of the most prevalent types of sleep disruption, but waking up during the night and waking earlier than desired are also frequent problems. In addition, many patients with chronic back pain problems do not feel refreshed in the morning when they awaken, a sleeping problem termed “non-restorative sleep.” It ultimately links itself with augmentation in pain, when we are not well-rested then our body becomes more sensitive to pain, making it feel worse and reducing the tolerance levels. It has been said that sleep affects everything from your moods and mobility to immunity, even your grasping power. Many of these are thought to be in sync with sleep, meaning they both influence and are influenced by the quality and quantity of rest we provide to our body.

Try to get the sleep you need

The right path to reducing pain will depend on the cause of your pain, as every person will have unique considerations. For some people, chronic pain not only makes it harder to fall asleep but can also interrupt sleep, and simply shifting position in bed can trigger pain from a chronic condition. Chronic pain puts you in double jeopardy: the pain robs you of restful sleep and makes you more fatigued, and thus more sensitive to pain. Staying on a regular sleep schedule is also important, meditation, visualization, or whatever relaxing distraction you favor can be practiced to get yourself some sound sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene with the following suggestions:

·         Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends

·         Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature

·         Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom

·         Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime

·         Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

Reduce your overall pain by improving your eating habits with the following foods

·         tomatoes

·         olive oil

·         green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards

·         nuts like almonds and walnuts

·         fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines

·         fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges 

And avoid these foods that cause inflammation and therefore pain

·         refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries

·         French fries and other fried foods

·         soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages

·         red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)

·         margarine, shortening, and lard


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