When you’re in chronic pain, it can be hard to get the sleep you need, but a lack of sleep will only make your pain worse. And when you’re tired and achy, everything else in your life becomes that much more difficult. If this struggle sounds familiar, then read on to find out how to sleep better with chronic pain.
Why is sleep so important?
Research shows that lack of sleep increases your sensitivity to pain. If you struggle to sleep due to chronic pain, you can fall in to a vicious cycle, where difficulty sleeping makes the pain worse, which in turn makes it harder to sleep, and so on.
Lack of sleep has a serious effect on your physical and mental health overall. In fact, we’re only just waking up (no pun intended!) to the reality that sleep deprivation can be as dangerous as smoking, drug use and obesity. It’s linked to chronic illnesses like heart disease, mental illnesses like depression, a hampered immune system, and general cognitive slow-down.
There is some good news! Charity Pain Concern says: “Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. It is possible to get a decent night’s sleep despite ongoing pain.” According to Pain Concern, the “sleep gap” between those with and without chronic pain narrows sharply among those who make sleep a priority.
How to sleep well
If you haven’t heard of sleep hygiene, it’s essentially the practice of optimising your sleep environment and creating healthy sleep habits. You can practice good sleep hygiene by:
Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on days you don’t feel ready to get up. The NHS says this will strengthen your natural circadian rhythm, making your sleep more predictable. Avoid taking naps or having a lie-in too, as this can disrupt your next night’s sleep.
Keep your bedroom screen-free. The blue light from mobiles, computers and TVs disrupts your circadian rhythm and keeps your brain stimulated way past bedtime.
Keep work out of the bedroom. Avoid doing chores you can do elsewhere, such as paperwork or emails, and keep your bed for sleep and sex only.
Maintain a comfortable temperature in your bedroom. The ideal temperature is between 16-24°C, depending on your personal preferences. Check the Weather Flare app for the temperatures through the night and adjust your heating to keep you comfortable.
More helpful sleep tips
Reduce your caffeine intake. When you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, it can be tempting to reach for a coffee. However, the stimulating effects of caffeine can last for at least four hours, increasing the time it takes you to get to sleep, and making your sleep more restless. Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume and try not to have any at all after about 4pm.
Sleep-proof your diet. The Sleep Council found that tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein foods, can affect the brain chemistry to promote good sleep. Aim to include food with tryptophan in your evening meal, such as turkey, steak, chicken and pumpkin seeds.
Stay active. Being active during the day increases your sleep drive later in the evening. As a bonus, outside activities like walking give you lots of blue light exposure during the day, which helps to keep your circadian rhythm in sync.
Try meditation or distraction techniques. Harvard doctors recommend “relaxing distraction” to take your mind off pain and help you fall asleep. Consider some guided relaxation videos or podcasts, such as rhythmic breathing meditation, or guided imagery.
Time your pain medication. Sometimes it can be helpful to take your pain medication right before bed, so it’s effective through the night. But remember: always speak to your doctor before making changes in how you take your medication.
The Weather Flare app has been designed especially to help people with chronic health conditions. Download it today on iOS and Android and see how it can help you. We’re currently in the beta testing phase of the app, and would love your feedback so we can make it as helpful as possible.