Chronic Pain and Sleep


The National Sleep Association reports that 2/3 of chronic pain sufferers experience sleep problems. The pain itself plays a factor as do chronic pain medications. Bedtime is supposed to be a time when we allow the distractions of the day to fade so we sleep and we relax. If you live with chronic pain, it is time where you finally realize how much pain you are in. The reason for the amplification of the pain is because your brain is not distracted by anything else. Thus, falling asleep is burdensome.

Day by day, a vicious cycle arises and sleep disturbances end up being an exacerbation of pain during the day and vice versa – you can no longer sleep because of the pain. Arthritis conditions and fibromyalgia pain are two major causes of sleep disruption. Interrupted sleep comes in the form of waking up several times at night, difficulty falling asleep, awakening too early in the morning, and non-refreshing sleep. Further, people with arthritis and fibromyalgia may experience restless leg syndrome, morning stiffness, extra pain and sleep apnea. Then, the lack of good quality sleep takes a toll the next day in the form of low energy and fatigue, depression, and pain. Reduction in energy jeopardizes a person’s safely, and this coming of experience, as I remember the days when I would nod off while driving.

In addition to medications and supplements for RA and FMS, I have made lifestyle changes to help myself get better quality sleep. It is not always easy especially with a busy life like mine, but day by day, it gets easier.

Saving my energy. I have learned to prioritize my life on a daily basis. There are days when I do not have a whole lot of energy so I do what is high priority and leave tasks that are less priority for when I am alert enough to focus on those.

Naps and resting periods. I usually try to take a power nap during the day (like during my lunch hour for about 20 to 30 minutes). If I can’t fall asleep, I just use it as resting period to clear my mind, and to not focus on the busyness of my life.

Changes in diet and being active. I am Mediterranean and I should know better when it comes to managing my arthritis pain. The Mediterranean diet is great source for reducing inflammation that results in arthritis pain. The American Heart Association has some helpful information on this type of diet. I have also started getting more active. I haven’t gone back to the gym yet because clumsiness and embarrassment are my best friends these days. I have, however, started taking the stairs more and taking walks so slowly but surely, I am getting back.

A regular schedule and bedtime routine. I am usually in bed by ten o’clock but my life is busy and I have two young children so I do the best I can here. Atmosphere is important too and I usually don’t watch television, spend time on my computer, or pay bills, once I am in bed.

Quitting smoking. If you smoke, you know (this one is a given) that smoking definitely affects arthritis and fibromyalgia pain. I know this one from experience as I quit over two years ago, and I have never looked back.

Lifestyle changes will play in an important role in the reduction of symptoms as well as improve sleep. Going on two years after diagnosis, I know little by little that these changes make a huge difference in how I feel physically and emotionally. I have also been working on stress management through prayer and mediation. One of the most important things I have learned in the last year is to let go. I have learned to put things aside and not let everything get to me. As I have learned all too well, a carefree attitude plays in important role in stress management.

I don’t think I will ever go back to enjoying waking up early in the morning or on Mondays, but if I get lucky, I won’t have to worry about Mondays or mornings. For now, I will keep mumbling and grumbling with my dear buddy Garfield about Mondays, mornings, and Monday mornings.

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This entry was posted in Fibromyaloga, rheumatoid arthritis, sleep. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Chronic Pain and Sleep

  1. Dee says:

    Once again, you have managed to capture in words what I'm unable to. Thank you for posting about your experiences, and research you have done.

  2. rheumablog says:

    Getting a good night's sleep IS one of the best things we who cope with RA (or any chronic pain condition) can do for ourselves. It's also one the hardest things to control. I can't even count the number of times I've lain awake in the night, just one big aching lump, desperate to fall asleep and get away from it for a while.Your suggestions for a good sleep environment are right on. I'd include 1)No food after 7 p.m.; 2)No caffeine, but instead warm, comforting herbal teas or even a glass of warm milk; and 3) a long, hot bath or shower right before turning in. Leaving the computer and TV watching for tomorrow, as you said, is wise.Even doing all those things, I was still having trouble with sleeping because of pain. My doc prescribed a low dose of amitriptalyne (Elavil), and that has worked well for me, as long as I take it by 8:30 p.m. or so. It doesn't make me feel particularly sleepy, but once I turn in at 10 or 10:30, I DO fall asleep and stay asleep. I wake up fairly early feeling reasonably refreshed. If I take the med later at night, though, I stumble through the morning, groggy and disoriented for several hours. I've learned my lesson…Thanks for the informative post. I wish you plenty of sleep tonight and every other night!-Wren

  3. It *is* a vicious cycle!!! The less sleep I get, the worse I feel and the worse I feel, the less sleep I get! Isn't it sad?!

  4. Dee, As always, you rock!Wren, Thanks for the additional suggestions.Rachel, sometimes, I feel like I am sleep-walking through my life. I am not ready to try sleep aids though, but occassional pain reliever with sleep aid helps.

  5. tharr says:

    Glad to know I am with the majority for sleep problems. It's good to fit in somewhere. On those special occasions when I do get a good 8-10 hours of sleep, I feel great. It's really hard for me to stay on a consistent schedule with the hours and days that I work. Congratulations on quitting smoking! Good post. BTW: You can never go wrong with Garfield.

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