woman laying in bed in pain holding her headWe’ve all heard the quote “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, and this week’s blog will focus on a similar scenario – the link between sleep and pain.  Pain makes it hard to fall/stay asleep, and alternatively, lack of sleep creates a gateway for pain. Each person has to determine what is the chicken and what is the egg and treat which came first.  Is the pain a manifestation of OSA, or is the pain the cause of poor sleep?

The National Sleep Foundation’s 2015 Sleep in America Poll found that pain is a key factor affecting how adults sleep. When asked how often they get a good night’s sleep, less than half those with acute pain and only 39 percent with chronic pain said “always or often,” and one quarter of chronic pain sufferers reported poor or very poor sleep quality. What’s even more interesting? People with pain averaged 42 minutes of weekly “sleep debt” (the gap between the sleep they need and the sleep they get). The greater the level of pain, the greater the sleep debt.

Yes, pain is a clear obstacle for quality sleep.  Poor sleep can make your tolerance to pain deteriorate. However, you can be proactive and make changes in your routine to improve your sleep. I want to share some tips with you, and hopefully you can put them to use, or help a loved one suffering from chronic pain.

  1. Make sleep a priority – People who are motivated to get enough sleep actually sleep more, an average of 36 minutes per night (That’s 4.2 hours of extra sleep each week).
  1. Create a bedtime routine – People with chronic pain who have a bedtime routine sleep more. Set a start time for your routine (at least 30 minutes before bed) when you put away work, shut off electronics, and put stressful matters on hold.
  1. Maintain the condition of your bedroom – If you’re in pain, that means you’re more sensitive to your surrounding environment. Use dark curtains or black-out shades, keep the temperature cool, keep electronics out of the bedroom and make sure you have a suitable mattress.
  1. Ease your mind – Pain is associated with stress. Chronic pain sufferers usually think they have less “control” over their sleep and worry about lack of sleep affecting their health. Breathing exercises, meditation or other relaxation techniques can be very helpful in these situations.

The relationship between pain and sleep quality is well documented in the literature.  Sleep complaints are present in up to 88% of chronic pain disorders and at least 50% of patients presented with insomnia also suffer chronic pain.  The longer that you have pain and therefore disturbed sleep, the greater the chance for a permanently disrupted sleep-wake cycle.  Sleep impairment can more accurately predict future episodes of chronic pain, as compared to pain predicting sleep deficits.
If you are suffering from chronic pain and think you may also have an underlying sleep disorder, please contact our office today at (586) 573-0438.  Please click here to take the Sleep Disorder Test
Hemmeter U, Kocher R, Ladewig D, Hatzinger M, Seifritz E, Lauer CJ, Holsboer-Trachsler E. Sleep Disorders in Chronic Pain and Generalized Tendomyopathy. Schweiz Med Wochenschr. 1995 Dec 9; 125 (49): 2391-7.
Roehrs T, Roth T. Sleep and Pain: interaction of two vital functions. Neurol. 2005 Mar; 25(1): 106-16.
National Sleep Foundation Website
Body In Mind (BiM Org) Website
Mann, D. Pain: The Sleep Thief. February 2010 WebMD Archives.