Are you popping Advil and Tylenol P.M. like Pez candy before bedtime just to get a good night’s rest? Well, if the answer is yes, you may be someone who suffers from an inability to sleep due to chronic pain.  The condition is far more common than you might think: nearly half of America’s population suffers from some sort of chronic pain, ranging from athletes with common sports injuries to cancer patients fighting to survive.  Of those, between 50-90% say they lose sleep at night because of their discomfort, and a recent online poll conducted by a major news media revealed that some 46% of the pain sufferers polled have lost sleep due to pain in the last two weeks1 alone.  In this article, we’ll explore ways to alleviate nighttime chronic pain so you can enjoy more restful sleep.

Chronic pain and lack of sleep are often co-occurring conditions that create a disturbing cycle difficult for anyone to recover from. The formula for conquering this problem may seem obvious: more sleep equals less pain, but this is unfortunately easier said than done. In order to reach a solution, it’s important to first evaluate your bedtime habits.  You’ll essentially have to re-think the way you sleep, and one of the first things you’ll need to consider is the type of mattress you’re sleeping on.

The mattress you choose significantly affects the amount of pressure created throughout your body.  For example, spring-coil mattresses consist of tough metal springs that wear out over time and lack the ability to give you adequate support where you need it most.  Force is applied to your entire body by these springs, and they push harder against it where your weight is heaviest [ie; on your shoulder and hip if you’re a side-sleeper].  Considering that these mattresses dominate 80% of the market, it’s no wonder that the number of chronic pain sufferers with difficulty sleeping is so high.  A tremendously superior alternative to spring-coil [and unreliable, high maintenance beds such as the waterbed and air mattress]: visco-elastic memory foam mattresses.  Memory foam alleviates uncomfortable pressure points because it easily conforms to the natural shape of your body no matter how you sleep, and the visco-elastic material is designed to serve as a shock-absorber.  Pain is further relieved because memory foam will effectively improve blood circulation throughout your body.

Your evening habits may need to be re-adjusted as well to help you conquer nighttime chronic pain problems.  Consider the following:

  • Watching television in the bedroom, which creates bothersome light and noise that can keep you awake long past bedtime;
  • Using your computer before bed, as it involves staring at the monitor’s light which will cause bio-chemicals to be released in your brain that can ward off sleep; and
  • Consuming alcohol, food, nicotine, and certain medications prior to bedtime, which can either keep you up or cause sleep disturbances in the night.

One final remedy to consider when trying to mange sleep loss acquired from chronic pain are therapeutic methods for the mind.  Engaging your brain in quiet activities such as reading, stretching, or meditating can help you fall asleep more quickly.  Furthermore, developing a repetitive nightly routine [such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, and then going on to the bedroom] can help you drift into rest more easily because it will train your brain to follow this routine with sleep.  These relaxing activities and consistent routines are effective ways to unwind both mind and body before bedtime.  I welcome you to take these ideas into the bedroom with you tonight and try them out, remembering that better sleep management creates better pain management, and thereby better health on the whole.

1. Griffin, R. Morgan. When Aches & Pain Disrupt Sleep. Reviewed January 1. 2007. Retrieved on June 9, 2009. Gilles Lavigne, DDS, MSc, FRCD, professor in dentistry, physiology and psychiatry, University of Montreal.