How Chronic Pain Disrupts Your Sleep

After a long day of dealing with chronic pain, it would be great if it could leave you in peace for the night. Sadly, chronic pain knows no time limits—it can keep you tossing and turning long into the night.

See Coping with Chronic Pain and Insomnia

Woman with insomnia Poor sleep because of chronic pain can increase pain, causing a troubling cycle.
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Coping with Chronic Pain and Insomnia

It gets worse. If you're not getting enough quality sleep and are feeling tired during the day, this can actually trigger chronic pain or cause it to increase.

This is why it's so important to break the cycle and treat both sleep problems and pain.

See How Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes Fatigue

How does chronic pain disturb sleep?

The first step to combating insomnia from chronic pain is to understand what's causing your sleep problems. The types of sleep difficulties that can result from chronic pain are usually categorized into 3 problems:

  • Not being able to fall asleep
  • Not being able to stay asleep or achieve deep sleep
  • Waking up too early

In addition to the pain itself, some health conditions may be to blame for poor sleep for those with chronic pain, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.

See Lifestyle Factors and Fatigue Associated with RA

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Doctors use 3 steps for diagnosing the cause of sleep problems:

  1. Self-reporting. During an office visit, you'll be asked to describe the nature of the sleep problems and how it affects your life during the day.

  2. Keeping a sleep diary. You doctor may ask you to start keeping a diary every day and record how many times you woke up, what you think caused the awakening, and how you energy levels were during the day. Often, this reveals patterns that can pinpoint the cause of sleep issues.
  3. Undergoing a sleep study. If self-reported symptoms or a sleep diary are still not pointing to a specific cause for sleep problems, your doctor may recommend you have a sleep study. This involves spending the night in a sleep lab while your vital signs and episodes of wakefulness are observed by experts. Sleep studies are often useful for diagnosing conditions like sleep apnea.
  4. See Recognizing Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue

What you can do to combat insomnia

If you're suffering from poor sleep due to chronic pain or other causes, see your doctor. There are several treatment options for both sleep problems and pain.

Many people assume chronic pain is untreatable, but this isn't necessarily the case. Even if the cause of chronic pain is unknown or incurable, the pain itself can be addressed with therapies like physical therapy, lifestyle adjustments, and pain medications.

See Pain Medications for Arthritis Pain Relief

The treatment options for insomnia include 2 main tactics:

  1. Therapy. Cognitive therapy can help you change negative thought patterns that can exacerbate sleep problems, and behavioral therapy can help you develop and follow good sleep hygiene habits, like going to bed at the same time every night and keeping the bedroom cool and dark.
  2. Medication. There are several types of medication that can help you sleep better, but they have to be used with caution and short-term, because they can cause dependency and side effects.

See Therapies for Treating Insomnia

Learn more:

How to Understand Chronic Pain vs. Acute Pain

11 Unconventional Tips for Better Sleep

Post written by Carrie DeVries