Quality of Sleep
Attempting a good night’s rest when you struggle with chronic pain is different than just your average restless sleep or even insomnia. This is not to diminish either, because lack of sleep all around is terrible for mind, body and spirit. However, chronic pain insomnia encompasses more than being unable to sleep; it involves pain and also, anxiety stemming from not sleeping. This sets in motion a vicious cycle that includes dread as you anticipate bed time and not being able to sleep.
Speaking only from my experience, I find there is also a restlessness which I think may have something to do with being less active. Let’s face it, most of us in pain don’t move like we used to. Eventually I will cover exercise and chronic pain, but for the majority of us even if we are active sometimes, it is usually dictated by how we feel when we wake up and analyze our pain levels. We’re all different and there are some in the chronic pain community that manage to be active. I am still struggling with that and perhaps if you are like me we can figure it out together as I continue this journey.
But going back to figuring out how to manage sleep and chronic pain, I am going to share with you some ideas that I have found and that I use myself in hopes of helping you get your Zzzz’s. Here we go.
5 Tips for Better Sleep
1.) Sleep when you are tired: This may sound like pointing out the obvious since most of us do go to bed when we’re tired, but if you are going to bed and tossing and turning and it’s only partly because of pain then you may need to reevaluate bedtime. For example: my ideal sleep number is around 5-6 uninterrupted hours of sleep. Any more than that and I am sluggish. If I get 3-4 hours I am okay as long as I am not woken up between. Broken sleep is as bad as too little sleep. My internal alarm is 6:30 and no later than 7am. I cannot remember the last time I needed an alarm clock. So I know that by 2am I have to be asleep so I try to wind things up and relax so I can sleep. My suggestion is this: If you get up at 5am then by 9pm is when you should be sleeping. Start winding down at 8pm. Take a bath, brush your teeth, get in bed and allow another 3o minutes to get to sleep. If you can’t, don’t freak out, but don’t trap yourself in bed either. Get up, go and sit in the living room and read or do word puzzles that challenge your mind. Then try it again. It may take a few nights to figure out your ideal sleep time and it may be earlier or it may be later. You need to try and find your natural rhythm. When you find your ideal sleep number, stick to it.
2.) Say no to Caffeine, Say yes to Herbal tea!: Coddee and soda are delicious. I love both. But the can contribute to sleepless nights so, try to avoid them after 2pm. Instead, drink herbal tea. Chamomile, lavender, and vanilla are excellent at helping to relax. And watch out for nicotine! That is another culprit in sleeplessness.
3.) Meditate: I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, meditate! No joke, if you find you can’t sleep give it a try. I find that it is as close to a restorative sleep as sleep is and will help you function better in the morning than if you just lay awake all night tossing and turning. You can give this technique a try.
5 minute Meditation Technique
Inhale and count to 5.
Hold your breath and count to 3.
Exhale and count to 8.
Hold your breath and count to 2.
Let go and repeat.
4.) Soak in the Tub: This is something else I’ve spoken about more than once. It’s good for those painful, aching muscles and an excellent way to help you sleep too. Relaxing in a warm tub will elevate your body temp slightly and when you get out, the quick cool down mimics the natural drop the brain triggers as it prepares for sleep. A 1985 study found “that people who take a warm bath before bed not only fall asleep more quickly but also report better quality of sleep.” [Horne and Reid, Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 1985 Feb]
5.) Jot Down Your Worries and Cast the Away: The basic idea here is freeing your mind of those nagging thoughts before sleep. Before bed, think of anything that might be troubling you and then write it down on a small piece of paper. Over a safe area like the kitchen sink, light it on fire. As it burns in the sink, and the smoke wisps away, picture that troubled thought disappearing with it. Run water over the burn paper remnants just to be safe and try to sleep. Continue to visualize that trouble fading away like the smoke and conjure good and peaceful thoughts. This exercise is surprisingly helpful. So many times we are kept awake by worries, some of those worries even stemming from our pain situation. But it is not our fault our body is in turmoil. Nothing we did caused it and so we have to let it go and just try and focus on nurturing our bodies and our spirit the best we can.
I hope some of these ideas will help. It really is all about experimentation and seeing what might work for you. We’re all different and nothing about pain is cookie cutter or one size fits all. I would love to hear from you readers on my twitter! Give me your thoughts on any of these blogs. Criticism is not something I shy away from, it helps me be a better writer and helps me get the information you need. Something I am working on for the near future is Sex and Chronic Pain. Stay tuned!