Anyone with chronic pain knows the feeling of going to sleep after tossing and turning, waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble getting back to sleep, then finally getting up in the morning feeling as if you’ve had NO SLEEP AT ALL!
There’s a number of reasons for sleep being a problem when you have chronic pain, and sometimes it helps to know a bit about this before starting to look for ways to fix it.
Getting off to sleep
This can be hard when you have pain because your brain is busy racing around just as your head hits the pillow. Thoughts chase each other, worries frolic, and on top of that, it’s quiet and it’s easy to feel every single sore and aching part of your body.
This can happen because you haven’t been all that busy through the day, so you’re not physically sleepy. It can also happen because you’ve been going all day and you haven’t wound down very much. This last bit happens a lot if you’ve been so busy that you haven’t had time to think about things that worry you – so thoughts pop in and the worry cycle begins because it’s peaceful and quiet. But not good for sleep!
Waking in the middle of the night
Often, around 90 – 120 minutes after you’ve got off to sleep, PING! The eyes open up, and you’re wide awake and ready to rock and roll. Only it’s 2.30 in the morning, and the rest of the world is fast asleep. The answer is not, my friends, getting a night shift job! The reason for this waking is due to our sleep cycles. During deep sleep it’s very hard to wake anyone up, but as we cycle through lighter sleep and into dreaming sleep, and then back down again, it’s easier for us to be disturbed by things that are going on. This might be the need to pee, a noise from outside (or the person next to you!), or your body hurting. Once awake, because your “sleep hunger” is partly satisfied, it’s much easier to stay awake.
Waking in the early morning
If you wake before you really want to, say around an hour or two before the alarm goes off, you often still feel groggy but cannot get back to sleep. Thoughts might once again frolic around your mind, your body is sore and it’s really difficult to get back to sleep – and if you do get back to sleep, it feels like only a few short minutes and that alarm goes off again! Sometimes this kind of waking is due to feeling very anxious and worried, and at other times it’s due to actually being depressed. Whatever the reason, it’s most unpleasant and can mean your day begins well before you want it to – often leading you to want to have a daytime nap.
So… what to do?
Basic sleep hygiene is part of the answer – but not a quick answer. It’s not about changing your sheets either!
It means keeping bed for sleep, sex and perhaps reading as part of a night-time ritual. Sex? you say – what’s that!!
It also means getting out of bed if you’ve been awake for more than 20 minutes. Yes. I said OUT of BED after 20 minutes. Yuk. But this helps to break the learned relationship between being in bed and being awake. Keep the lights down low if you get out of bed, wrap up warmly if it’s winter, sit out in the lounge, and do some breathing exercises or perhaps listen to quiet music. Whatever you do, don’t eat, drink (especially coffee, tea or chocolate), and don’t watch TV or listen to the radio. Don’t begin your housework. Don’t solve the problems of the world! Just breathe in and out. Make it so boring your body and brain WANT to go to bed.
When you’re sleepy/tired, head back to bed and snuggle down and fall asleep.
For a while, as you’re working on your sleep, it’s a good idea to knock off drinking all caffeine, coffee, tea, coke, chocolate, energy drinks from the afternoon. And limit the number of caffeinated drinks to maybe two or three.
Also, don’t go out exercising later in the day – but do exercise!
There’s more on sleep, and I’ll post about this next week – in the meantime, this site has some great tips.