How to sleep when you’re in pain

If you can’t sleep because of pain, life is pretty miserable. Sleep is a universal necessity for our physical and mental well-being, but when you’re dealing with pain, it can feel like an elusive luxury. In this blog post, we’ll share insights and practical tips on how to improve your…

Reading Time: 4 min.

How to sleep when you're in pain

If you can’t sleep because of pain, life is pretty miserable. Sleep is a universal necessity for our physical and mental well-being, but when you’re dealing with pain, it can feel like an elusive luxury. In this blog post, we’ll share insights and practical tips on how to improve your sleep when you’re in pain.

Understand the connection between pain and sleep

Before diving into ways to improve your sleep, it’s crucial to recognize the strong interplay between pain and sleep. Pain can disrupt your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and experience restorative deep sleep. On the flip side, poor sleep can exacerbate pain perception, creating a vicious cycle.

So it’s important to address the route cause of the pain, as well as trying to improve your sleep.

Find out what’s causing the pain

If you’re experiencing chronic or severe pain that disrupts your sleep, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional. Though often not the case, pain at night can be a sign of a significant problem, so it’s important you get it checked. Equally, you can get a diagnosis of the underlying cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan. Addressing the root of the problem is often the first step toward better sleep. Less pain often means better sleep. But better sleep often means less pain, so read on…

Pain Management techniques

Incorporate pain management techniques into your daily routine:

a. Medication: We’re not huge advocates for painkillers, but if they help you move more during the day, and sleep better at night they can be useful. Unfortunately, however, some pain medications affect your sleep, so keep an eye out for those.

b. Physiotherapy: A Physio can give you a pre-bed routine of exercises and advice to help set you up for reducing the pain, and improving your sleep.

c. Relaxation Techniques: Practices like deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can reduce pain-related anxiety and improve sleep quality.

Optimise your sleep environment

Creating the right sleep environment is even more crucial when you’re in pain:

a. Comfortable Bedding: Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that provide adequate support for your specific pain points. We don’t generally recommend really hard or soft mattresses. You pillows should fill the gap between the end of your shoulder and your head so that when you’re sleeping on your side, your spine is in a straight line. It doesn’t matter if that’s one thick pillow that squashes, or two thinner pillows. Whatever you find most comfortable.

b. Room Darkening: Ensure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Consider blackout curtains and earplugs to eliminate disturbances. The nervous system is generally more irritable when you’re in pain so disturbances will be picked up on more than usual.

c. Temperature Control: Maintain a comfortable room temperature, usually around 18-21°C. Being too cold will increase muscle tension. Being too hot, tends to reduce your sleep drive (most of us don’t sleep well on a hot summer’s night).

Establish a consistent sleep schedule

Consistency is key to regulating your body’s internal clock:

a. Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends. This can often be hard when you’re in pain. If the pain is bad during the day, you count the moments until you can go to bed and the day of pain is over. The temptation is also to stay in bed longer. This can actually cause more pain as it adds to the stiffness you get with lots of painful conditions.

b. Avoid long daytime naps, as they can interfere with nighttime sleep. If you struggle to sleep at night because of pain, it’s fine to have naps in the day, but if they are too long, that will become the reason you’re not able to sleep at night, so limit how long your daytime naps are.

Practice good sleep hygeine

a. Limit screen time before bed, as the blue light emitted from devices can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. Often when you’re in pain, one of the few things you can do is sit and scroll on your phone, but this can lead to difficulties getting to sleep, so try to limit it before bed.

b. Avoid caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime. Being in pain can often mean your meal times alter as you don’t feel like eating when you normally would. Eating a meal not long before bed can make it hard to get to sleep.

c. Create a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading a book or taking a warm bath. Heat usually helps most pain too, so a bath can be a really good pre-bed activity.

The best position to sleep in

We often get asked what the best position to sleep is for a particular condition. The answer is always, the one you are most comfortable in and get most sleep in. Quite simply, find a position you find comfortable and go with that and don’t worry if it’s the perfect position for you. If it doesn’t hurt, it must be a pretty good position!

It takes time

Improving your sleep when you’re in pain is difficult, but it can really help reduce the pain itself if you can manage to improve it even a little.

By understanding the connection between pain and sleep, seeking medical guidance, and implementing everything we mentioned above, you can significantly enhance your sleep quality. If nothing else, pain when you’ve slept well is more manageable than when you’re exhausted.

Remember that addressing your pain issues may take time, so be persistent and prioritise self-care. A good night’s sleep is a vital step towards a healthier, pain-free life.

If you’re in pain and struggling to sleep, then we’re here to help. Find your nearest Physiotherapy clinic here and get in touch to talk about how we might be able to help.

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