Chronic pain can plague those with conditions like arthritis any time of the day or night. What do you do when pain leaves you tossing and turning and robbing you of needed restorative sleep?
This post will share solutions to help you combat sleep problems and get a better night’s rest.
Treat the chronic pain itself
The first step is to talk with your doctor about treatment options for the pain. Even if the cause of your chronic pain is vague or intractable, the pain itself can be treated with medications, physical therapy, and/or relaxation and meditation techniques. Ask your doctor if the professional help of a pain specialist could be beneficial for you too.
When it comes to treating the sleep problems, there are two main solutions: cognitive behavioral therapy and medications.
Sleep solution 1: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
We all know what it’s like when you try to fall asleep, only to get more and more anxious about not being able to. This anxiety is bad enough, but then other thoughts creep in to make sleep more elusive—worries about pain, your condition, finances, work, relationships, etc.
Eventually these thoughts can develop into self-defeating thought patterns like, “I’ll never get to sleep no matter what I do,” or “I’m doomed to have a terrible day tomorrow if I don’t fall asleep in the next half hour.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you identify these unhealthy thought patterns so you can learn to avoid them. CBT also teaches the practice of redirecting your mind away from anxiety-inducing thoughts.
All of this is the “cognitive” part of the CBT. The “behavioral” aspect comes in the form of learning and practicing healthy behaviors that can promote sleep. These are also referred to as sleep hygiene practices.
Good sleep hygiene practices include the following:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Expose yourself to light during the day and make the bedroom dark at night, which can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and exercise late in the day.
- Remove all TVs, laptops, and other devices from the bedroom; use the bed only for sleep and sex.
- Make the bedroom cool and quiet. Consider using a white noise machine or fan to mask outside noises.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something calming until sleepiness returns.
See a complete list of sleep hygiene tips for day and nighttime.
Sleep solution 2: Medications
As anyone who’s seen the TV ads during the evening news knows, there are a range of medications designed to treat sleep problems. Common options include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien, Stilnox, Stilnoct).
These medications can be very effective, but they’re best used for shorter periods. That’s because they can cause side effects and dependency. They all require a prescription, so work with your doctor to determine if one of these medications is right for you.
In addition, there are a few other medication types that can promote better sleep:
- Melatonin receptor agonists. These medications, the most common of which is Rozerem, affect the melatonin receptors in the brain and are non-habit forming.
- Antihistamines. These allergen fighters have long been known to cause drowsiness. Newer formulations are non-drowsy, but older versions such as Benadryl can still help with sleep.
- Anti-depressants. These can help with sleep and chronic pain when taken in a much lower dose than needed to treat depression.
Many doctors will recommend a combination of chronic pain remedies, CBT therapies, and medications for patients with chronic conditions who experience sleep problems. Work with your doctor to find the best formula of treatment(s) for you.