What To Do When Pain Disturbs Your Sleep

So many of my clients know the drill. Pain wakes you up, you sleep badly, the pain gets worse because you haven’t slept well. Talk about negative feedback loops! It can make you desperate.

“Sleepless Haunted Owl” by Aaron Riddle, acriddle.com

Web MD has a great checklist for helping yourself sleep better when you’re struggling with the pain/lousy sleep cycle:

  • Cut back — or cut out — the caffeine. If you’re overtired, coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas may help you get through the day. But in all likelihood, they’re just worsening your problem, since they disturb your sleep at night. So struggle through a few days without your dose of caffeine and see how you do.

  • Avoid naps. “Napping during the day just reduces the amount you can sleep at night,” says Roth.

  • Exercise, but not too late. While physical activity is good for everyone, intense exercise — especially in the late afternoon and evening — can rev your body up and make sleeping at night difficult. So try a more moderate exercise routine and make sure to do it before the evening.

  • Cut out the alcohol in the evening. A nightcap might seem like the perfect way to put yourself to sleep. But the problem is that alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycles and wake you up later.

  • Don’t overeat in the evening. A stuffed stomach may make it harder to sleep, says Lavigne.

  • Make your bedroom a calming place. It’s very easy to have your bedroom become a multipurpose dumping ground. It might be filled with baskets of laundry, your kids’ toys, and a blaring TV. But experts say that you should make your bedroom a more neutral, soothing place. In fact, they recommend that you reserve you bedroom only for sleeping and sex. Get rid of the distractions.

  • Relax before bed. Don’t do anything before bed that could get you anxious or excited. Avoid doing work in the evening or even getting into serious discussions with your spouse. Instead, try focused relaxation or breathing exercises.

  • If you can’t sleep, don’t lie awake in bed. Willing yourself to sleep won’t work — you’ll probably just make yourself anxious. So if you’re not asleep within 15 minutes of lying down, get out of bed and do something else. Read a book. Take a bath. Listen to soft music. Once you feel yourself getting tired, get back into bed.

  • Get up at the same time every day regardless of when you went to sleep. It’s one way of getting yourself onto a schedule.

One of the more counter-intuitive remedies is getting out of bed and doing something else if you can’t sleep. Sleep researchers are discovering, however, that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is not the historical norm for mankind. Before the advent of electricity, it was normal for people to wake up in the middle of the night for an hour or two, and go back to sleep again for another four or five hours. This is called ‘the watch.’ Many people stress themselves out needlessly when this happens to them. So the next time you wake up at 2 AM and can’t get back to sleep, tell yourself that this is fine and normal, and notice what thoughts come up. You may even come to enjoy it.

If you’re having sleep problems related to chronic pain, don’t discount the option of getting a massage every now and then! It’s been proven that even the most basic massage can reduce pain by soothing inflammation and stimulating cell renewal. Investing in regular bodywork can help you break and reverse that sleepless pain cycle.



2 thoughts on “What To Do When Pain Disturbs Your Sleep”

  1. Hi Stephanie,

    I found your blog via the comments section on Social Triggers. I just wanted to say that as someone who deals with painful sciatica from time to time, I can totally relate to this post.

    One of the things that you mentioned here that has helped me the most is exercise like lifting weights (but not too heavy, just enough to warm the muscle). Especially when it comes to deep muscle and nerve pain that is hard to reach through massage.

    I know how those nights feel when my sciatic nerve gets going and I can’t get comfortable no matter what I do, so thanks for sharing these tips, I might have to try a few of the others next time.

  2. Thanks, Hermine! Good to know about the gentle weight lifting–I will recommend that to my clients.

    Often sciatic pain can be relieved by stretching and releasing the piriformis, that little muscle deep in your butt. That stretch where you cross one ankle over your knee and pull your head toward your foot is great. Also, I’m finding that releasing all the fascia around the hip bones and IT band helps a lot.

Comments are closed.