The last two are essential for physical and mental health. Patients with chronic pain, however, often take medications that interfere with the sleep cycle. And this lack of restorative sleep results in increased pain and other problems.
Approaching insomnia holistically
Overall, a multi-disciplinary approach is vital in treating insomnia caused by chronic pain. There are many different ways to do this. First, it is essential to rule out any other causes of sleep disturbance. For example, are you suffering from sleep apnea or do you have poor sleep hygiene?
Good sleep hygiene includes going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol intake, not exercising 2-3 hours before bed and so on. Once you have gone through this process, then there are two primary methods of treating insomnia.
Solution 1: Take the psychological approach
Nowadays, many doctors prefer this method. With chronic pain patients who often are already on numerous medications, it’s not always a good idea to add another. This often further disturbs the sleep cycle.
What happens is that the pain often causes anxieties and additional worries over the pain itself, your finances, relationships and so on. Over time, this can become a terrible self-defeating pattern with thoughts like “I’ll never be able to sleep” or “tomorrow’s going to be terrible if I don’t fall asleep soon.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you how to recognize these thought patterns and how to avoid them. Instead of focusing on problems, your brain is redirected to a calmer direction.
It also helps you learn to not focus on the pain so it doesn’t worsen once you remove other distractions. This approach will take some time and several sessions with a specialist but can pay off for those dealing with long-term pain caused by conditions like arthritis, diabetes and more.
Solution 2: Try medication
We’ve all seen the commercials for medications promising to treat sleep problems. There’s a wide range of products available on the market. From anxiety medications like diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) to sleep inducers like zolpidem (Ambien) and zaleplon (Sonata), these can be highly effective.
However, these are typically only good short-term options. Long-term usage can cause numerous side effects and dependency. You’ll want to consult with your doctor to see if these can be helpful alongside any other medications you may be taking. Some other medications worth considering for short-term insomnia caused by chronic pain include:
- Melatonin and other natural supplements
- Melatonin receptor agonists: non-habit forming medications like Rozerem can help.
- Antidepressants: These can be taken in much lower dosages than when treating depression and can be used in treating insomnia and chronic pain
Experts recommend avoiding the use of antihistamines to help you when you have trouble sleeping. They also recommend speaking with your healthcare team for long-term solutions.
The bottom line on insomnia and pain management
Good sleep and health go hand in hand. If you are suffering from insomnia caused by chronic pain, your doctor will recommend a combination of these treatments including medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and other steps to improve not just your sleep habit but your overall health as well.
How do you manage your insomnia caused by chronic pain?
Tell us about your experience in the comments below.