Sleep is essential. It’s the time when your body gets the much-needed rest it needs to recover, heal, and stay healthy. Unfortunately, people with chronic pain know the struggle of the pain-sleep vicious cycle. Their chronic pain does not get any better because they do not sleep enough and they cannot sleep well because of their chronic pain. Over time, this sleep deprivation can lead to additional long-term side effects that can not only worsen the underlying condition causing the problem but also create new issues. This short guide will help you to understand insomnia caused by chronic pain and what you can do to solve it.
Understanding insomnia caused by chronic pain
It’s essential to know this isn’t your average insomnia. Most people eliminate distractions before they go bed such as turning off lights and music and making themselves comfortable. For a healthy person, this an ideal sleep environment. But for those suffering from chronic pain, this quiet environment often makes the pain seem more intense. In other words, the perception of pain increases while trying to go to sleep.
Your pain-sleep relationship
Both pain and sleep affect each other. 60% of pain clinic patients have reported insomnia following the onset of chronic pain. Even in otherwise healthy research participants, found the introduction of a pain stimulus to cause sleep disruption. These people not only have problems falling asleep, but also staying asleep.
Likewise, people who have intense difficulty falling asleep are found to be three times more likely to suffer from a chronic pain condition. Sleep deprivation and/or sleep disruption for more than three nights has been linked to decreased pain tolerance, poorer physical functioning, depression, and even symptoms that mirror those of fibromyalgia in healthy volunteers.
Quality vs. quantity sleep
We generally hear that adults need 8 hours of sleep each night. But for some people, 6 hours can feel like more than enough while others may need 9. The most important thing is that you wake up feeling refreshed. There are 4 stages of sleep:
- Stage 1: This stage is non-REM sleep. It moves us from wakefulness to sleep. “During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches. Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns.”
- Stage 2: This stage is also non-REM sleep. It is a period of light sleep. “Your heartbeat and breathing slow, and muscles relax even further. Your body temperature drops and eye movements stop. Brain wave activity slows but is marked by brief bursts of electrical activity. You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.”
- Stage 3: This stage is also non-REM sleep. This period gives you the deep sleep that will help you feel refreshed. “It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep. Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to awaken you. Brain waves become even slower.”
- Stage 4: This is REM sleep. It first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. “Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Mixed frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness. Your breathing becomes faster and irregular. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels. Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep. Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams. As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep.”