Chronic Pain

Beating Insomnia with Chronic Pain

Print
Share
Save

Approximately two-thirds of people with chronic pain also suffer from insomnia. It takes a multidisciplinary approach to with different medical specialists to treat both pain and insomnia. For example, certain pain medications can improve sleep while others disturb it. The first step to improving insomnia is to understand its cause.


For some people with chronic pain, insomnia may be caused by an inadequate bedtime routine. This may include using electronic devices such as computers, smartphones, and TVs to help individuals fall asleep, which only make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Ensuring a quiet environment and turning off all electrical devices two hours before bedtime can help improve the quality of sleep.


Because pain intensifies at night, it can become impossible to sleep. Some individuals may benefit from using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them fall asleep at night. This includes a variety of methods to improve sleep and change negative thoughts to positive ones that promote sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy is preferred over medications as it does not contain side effects that may be counterproductive to sleep.


The long-term goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help individuals control negative thoughts that keep them awake at night. Relaxation training is also helpful for individuals to reduce muscle tension and distract them from thoughts of pain. Techniques include guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and deep breathing muscle relaxation exercises. Individuals are encouraged to participate in three to eight sessions with a trained behavioral therapist to become familiar with this form of treatment.


Along with reconstructive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques, individuals can follow these tips to create healthy sleep habits:

  • Do not use the bed for anything except sleeping or sex. Avoid watching TV or reading books in bed as this will help the body and brain know that it’s time for sleep when your head hits the pillow.
  • Only go to bed when tired. If you are unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and go to another room. Return to bed when you are tired.
  • Wake up at the same time every day and go to sleep at the same time every night. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep at night. 
  • Avoid napping during the day. 
  • Exercise early in the day and do not exercise close to bedtime.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol intake.