The Important Relationship Between Sleep & Chronic Pain

Between work, family, housework, and other responsibilities, sleep is often treated like a low priority. Unfortunately, this neglect can have serious consequences for your health, especially when it comes to chronic pain. During National Sleep Awareness Week (March 10-16, 2024), Dr. Smith wanted to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on the important, interconnected relationship between sleep and chronic pain.

The Connection Between Sleep and Chronic Pain

Chronic pain and sleep share a complex and bidirectional relationship. On one hand, chronic pain can lead to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing the full benefits of restorative sleep. Conversely, getting inadequate or poor-quality sleep can exacerbate your perception of pain, creating a vicious cycle that can be challenging to break out of.

During the night, you cycle through several sleep stages: light sleep, slow-wave sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In order to feel sufficiently rested, you need a balance of all these sleep stages, especially the slow-wave sleep and REM sleep stages. If chronic pain disrupts this cycle and interferes with the progression of the sleep stages, it can lead to less restful sleep and next-day tiredness.

The Important Relationship Between Sleep & Chronic Pain | The PainSmith | San Antonio, TX

When your body is deprived of sleep, it can become more sensitive to pain, amplifying feelings of discomfort. This heightened sensitivity can be attributed to changes in the way the nervous system processes and perceives pain signals. Inadequate sleep also weakens the body’s ability to manage inflammation, a key factor in many chronic pain conditions.

Apart from the side effects of the pain, people with chronic pain may also experience sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome. Medication taken for pain or other chronic illnesses may also have side effects that interfere with sleep.

How is Pain Affected by Sleeping Positions?

The type of pain you are in may dictate your sleeping position. If you have hip, knee, or shoulder pain — as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis — you may need to avoid sleeping on your side. By contrast, people with lower back pain may need to be careful when sleeping on the back or stomach. You may want to consider a mattress and pillow designed to relieve pressure points and support the natural curvature of the spine to help alleviate some of the pain.

Other conditions cause diffuse pain throughout the body, such as multiple sclerosis. These conditions attack the nerves, which means people may need to switch sleeping positions more frequently to avoid numbness and tingling.

Improving Sleep Hygiene

Cultivating good sleep hygiene is crucial to break the cycle of chronic pain and poor sleep. The following recommendations can help to enhance your sleep quality:

Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock, promoting a more restful sleep.

Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Engage in calming activities before bedtime, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. This can help signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.

Optimize Your Sleep Environment: Make your bedroom into a sanctuary for sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and good quality pillows and sheets to support a good night’s rest. A white noise machine can create a soothing environment.

Limit Your Screen Time: The blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. You should try to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.

Watch Your Diet: Be mindful of your food and drink intake, especially later in the evening. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime, as they can disrupt sleep.

Stay Active: Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, but try to finish your workout at least a few hours before bedtime to allow your heart rate to go back to normal.

Manage Stress: Incorporate stress-reducing practices into your daily routine, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga. Managing stress can significantly improve both sleep and pain levels.

When to Seek Professional Help

If chronic pain and sleep disturbances persist despite adopting healthy sleep habits, it may be time to consult a healthcare professional. Consider seeking help if:

  • You consistently struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. This may indicate an underlying sleep disorder that requires medical attention.
  • Your chronic pain becomes unmanageable, impacting your daily life and well-being. You should consult with a healthcare provider for a comprehensive evaluation and tailored treatment plan.
  • You have excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and impaired daily functioning. These are signs that your sleep quality is insufficient and may warrant professional assessment.

The intricate dance between sleep and chronic pain underscores the importance of treating both aspects to achieve optimal health and wellness. As we commemorate National Sleep Awareness Week, join us in committing to prioritizing our sleep health and breaking the cycle of chronic pain. By adopting healthy sleep habits and seeking professional help when needed, we can pave the way for a more restful, rejuvenating, and pain-free life.

If you have back pain, joint pain, neck pain, or any other type of pain, give us a call or you can request a consultation and we’ll discuss your options.

*The PainSmith team has reviewed this information. It is intended for informational purposes only, not to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. Please discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

Our Team of Pain Management
Specialists Are Here For You