The Link Between Insomnia & Chronic Pain
Trouble sleeping can be stressful for anyone, but for those with chronic pain, sleep problems are especially common- and can make their pain even worse.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to two-thirds of patients with chronic pain conditions also suffer from sleep disorders.
“Compared to chronic pain patients who do not have trouble sleeping, those who do, report more severe pain, longer pain duration, greater levels of anxiety, depression and health anxiety, and worse impairment in physical and psychosocial functioning.”
Chronic pain and Insomnia have a bidirectional relationship; meaning they affect each other in what seems like a vicious cycle. Sleep issues like insomnia result in sleep deprivation, leading to increased pain intensity the next day, which makes it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep at night.
Lack of sleep can lead to things like:
- Increased inflammation
- Decreased pain tolerance
- Changes in mood
- Decreased immune function
- and more
“Compared to pain-free individuals, several studies indicate that those with chronic pain are at a higher risk of experiencing problems sleeping. Approximately 20% of the people living with chronic pain report at least one symptom of insomnia compared to only 7.4% in those without chronic pain.”
Recent studies have hinted toward a possibility that it is the disruption of sleep, rather than simply sleep deprivation that impairs pain tolerance and increases pain perception.
This could be due to the lack of REM sleep that occurs when we wake periodically throughout the night. REM sleep (standing for Rapid Eye Movement) happens several times during the night and is thought to be involved in the process of storing memories, learning, and balancing your mood. During REM sleep, your body and brain are energized.
Trouble sleeping has been found to be especially common in those with a range of chronic pain conditions such as:
- Back and neck pain
- Mouth/jaw/face pain
Michelle Drerup, PsyD of Cleaveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorder Center says that “Treating insomnia can help a patient's chronic pain subside.” She continues to say that it’s also important to rule out other possible issues that could be causing trouble sleeping such as psychiatric disorders and certain medications.
If you’re experiencing chronic pain and you’re struggling with sleep problems like insomnia, here are a few simple steps you can take to help your body and mind adjust and get a better night’s rest:
- Create a nighttime routine
- Listen to soothing music at a low volume
- Read before bed
- Take a bath before bed
- Exercise during the day
- Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine early in the day
- Reduce stress
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Learn more here.
Tang, Nicole K. Y. “Insomnia Co-Occurring with Chronic Pain: Clinical Features, Interaction, Assessments and Possible Interventions.” PubMed, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, 2 Sept. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4589931/.
“The Relationship Between Chronic Insomnia, Pain, and Depression.” Cyberbullying Linked With Range of Mental Health Effects, 7 Sept. 2012, www.psychcongress.com/blog/relationship-between-chronic-insomnia-pain-and-depression.
Webster, Lynn R. “Exploring the Relationship Between Sleep and Pain.” Medscape, Faculty and Disclosures, 2008, www.medscape.org/viewarticle/583304.
“What Is REM Sleep?” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/sleep/conditioninfo/what-happens.