If you are living with chronic pain, you likely have an idea of what triggers your pain. Often these are certain foods, activities, or even feelings like stress or anxiety. However, there is one trigger that often gets overlooked: sleep. Simply put, your sleep has a direct impact on your pain levels. First, let us dive into why adequate sleep is important for chronic pain, and then we will discuss ways you can improve your sleep habits.
Why Sleep Matters
When you experience a lack of sleep, you are depriving your body of the chance to recharge and rebuild itself. Sleep allows your brain to slow down so your body can focus on recovery. This allows your muscles, tendons, organs, and bones to begin repairing any damage.
Getting more sleep can also increase your pain tolerance, as sleep helps keep inflammation at bay. Inflammation can be a common problem in those with chronic pain, so if your inflammation is down, your pain may be as well.
While sleeping, your body increases the production of hormones such as leptin which controls your appetite, and cortisol which controls your stress response. So, if you find yourself hungry throughout the day or more susceptible to stress, your lack of sleep may be to blame. Furthermore, if in this state you notice your pain levels spike because of the added stress or because you reached for an inflammatory trigger food, increasing your hours of sleep may be enough to curb these reactions.
There are a few ways you can increase your chances of a good night’s sleep. Of course, these may not be immediate fixes, but by consistently implementing these practices, you may notice a difference.
Create an Oasis for Sleep
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary where you know you can be completely relaxed. This means eliminating all distractions and stimulants. Low lighting is one way to make your room more calming. Opting for a soft amber light rather than a bright white light will allow your eyes and mind to relax. Keeping your bedroom a screen-free zone can help too. The blue light emitted from our devices and televisions wreak havoc on our circadian rhythm, so not allowing these screens in the bedroom is a great way to set yourself up for sleeping success. Lastly, keeping the temperature slightly cooler than normal encourages you to snuggle into bed and get warm. Once you are cozied into your comfortable bed, a more restful night of sleep can follow.
Keep a Sleep Journal
Every morning, take a few moments to journal about the sleep you just experienced. Jot down how many hours you slept, whether it was restful and how you’re feeling. Then include what was involved in your pre-bedtime routine, food or drinks you consumed, feelings you had before bed, and any other pertinent information related to your sleep. Keeping track of which activities made for better sleep and which ones prevented it will help you determine best practices moving forward.
Meditation is a fantastic tool for achieving restful sleep. Everyone has their unique meditation style, so if you are brand new to meditation, start by simply assessing your body. Notice the sensations you are feeling, notice the areas where you feel pain, and then see if you can instruct your body to relax completely before drifting off to sleep. If this does not work, there are always guided meditations you can listen to as well.
Try not to deprive your body of sleep. The benefits of sleep are innumerable, and if you can achieve eight hours of sleep per night, you may notice that your pain is more manageable.
With contribution from Leah Concord