sleep and chronic pain - ISPW - Dr. Goyle

Sleep and Chronic Pain

Les’s Talk about Sleep and Chronic Pain

Sleep is a hot topic right now and for good reason. With busy schedules and endless amounts of stimulation, it’s no wonder people are having issues with sleep. 

Did you know that chronic pain can be a cause and consequence of lack of sleep. Researchers have found that there is a strong relation between the severity of chronic pain when a person is in a sleep deficit. Pain is a physical and emotional signal telling the body that there is something wrong. When a person is under chronic pain it can affect their behavioral system. Sleep is important because it helps to keep our behavioral system regulated and optimize our body’s function. 

What is Happening While We Sleep? 

As humans we require sleep for survival. When our sleep is off it can have a negative impact on our health and overall well-being. During the night when a human is asleep their body is taking the necessary measures to cycle through two different types of sleep: REM (rapid-eye- movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. When we first go to sleep we are in the non-REM sleep stage. We then move into the second stage when we are in a light sleep. During this stage our body temperature drops and our heart rate and breathing regulate. 

The third and fourth stage is when we drop into deep sleep. Throughout the night your body will cycle into REM sleep and back into stages three and four. When you’re in REM sleep, this when your body is in the dream faze.  

Why The Body Needs Sleep

Just like food and water our human bodies crave sleep. When a person doesn’t get enough sleep it can greatly impact their brain function, often making them feel foggy the next day. This is why when you go through the day running on just a few hours of sleep your brain has an issue with short term and long term memory.  

During the sleep period this is the time that the body removes waste products from the brain and helps to strengthen our immune system.  

When we have a lack of sleep this can increase our risk for:

  • depression
  • seizures
  • high blood pressure 
  • migraines 

How Does Sleep Affect Pain? 

Now that you know what is happening when our bodies sleep, I can explain how lack of sleep can increase the sensitivity to chronic pain. Many people who have chronic pain have reported that they have poor sleep quality.The chronic pain could possibly be the culprit for the lack of sleep, but then it turns into a vicious cycle and we don’t know what it cause and effect.  Sleep and pain have a bidirectional relationship and some patients have even said that when they receive a restful night’s sleep their pain symptoms are less severe the next day. 

This goes into the importance of keeping a pain journal, like we have discussed in previous blog posts. Keeping a journal can help determine what could be increasing your chronic pain symptoms. There are other factors that could also be causing you to wake up in the middle of the night as well. Issues like sleep apnea or other sleep disturbances can also be a contributing factor.

My wife and I, both having sleep issues (I have sleep apnea, which means I obstruct at night) and she has hypopnea (which means she has shallow breathing at night) both know the importance of sleep and how it can have a grave impact on your health and overall well-being. If you’re experiencing trouble sleeping, I highly recommend talking to a sleep doctor to go over your symptoms and determine if the lack of sleep is due to your chronic pain, or something else. Healing your sleep troubles could also help you reduce the severity of your chronic pain.

How to Get Better Sleep

While I know that it isn’t easy to get sleep when you’re suffering from chronic pain, here are some sleep tips that may help you get a more restful night’s sleep. 

Sleep Tips:

  • Go to sleep at a reasonable time every night. Aim to be in bed  and asleep by 10 pm each night. Turn off electronics an hour before bed
  • Meditate or do breath work before turning out the lights. Doing a sleep meditation at bedtime will help relax you and get you ready for a deep sleep. Apps like, Insight Timer have several free bedtime meditations to choose from. 
  • Take a bath before bed to get your body ready for rest. 
  • Dim the lights an hour before bed and refrain from looking at any electronics. 
  • Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is comfortable. 
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night don’t look at your phone or turn the tv on. 
  • Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Try to get 20 minutes of sunlight when you first wake up in the morning. 

Implementing these tips can take a while, but it only takes 21 days to create a habit. Start by doing these one day at a time. I know from experience that the tips above can offer a lot of help to anyone who has trouble sleeping. If your sleep troubles don’t get better by implementing these tips, you may want to think about seeing a sleep doctor, or discuss it with me in your next visit. 

If you enjoyed this article please rate and review it. Also leave any questions you may have in the comment box below. 

Here’s to good health, less pain and better sleep, 

Dr. Goyle