Pain Keeping You Up at Night? Try This
It’s common for my patients to report that their chronic pain is keeping them up at night. Yet, many do not realize that their lack of quality sleep has a compounding effect and makes their chronic pain worse.
The Relationship Between Sleep and Pain
In addition to obvious side effects of poor sleep (fatigue, grumpiness, inability to focus), a lack of quality sleep has compounding consequences for someone suffering chronic pain. Sleep is a time for your body to heal. There are a series of biological processes that only occur when you are asleep. Sleep is so important that some doctors believe that initial triggers for chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, are related to sleep.
There are 2 primary stages of sleep: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Your body cycles through these stages multiple times each night. REM sleep is necessary for restoring your mind, while the deepest stages of non-REM sleep are essential for restoring your body.
During non-REM sleep, your body releases chemicals essential to healing. One of those chemicals is human growth hormone, the production of which is at its highest during sleep. Human growth hormone is important for tissue growth when you are young and tissue healing once you become an adult. Also during this stage, brain activity decreases, breathing slows down, and blood pressure drops. This makes your blood supply available to deliver extra oxygen and nutrients to your muscles for healing and growth. But, if you never reach the stages of deep restorative sleep, or if you’re not in those stages for a long enough period of time, your body isn’t able to heal.
In addition, a lack of sleep lowers your threshold or tolerance for pain. That means that when your body is in a fatigued state, it actually takes less pain to trigger the pain reaction. In other words, it can make existing pain feel worse.
You can see the compounding effect this can have. You’re not sleeping, so you’re not healing, which leaves you in more pain. And your threshold for pain is actually lowered, so now your existing pain has been magnified. And, because you’re in so much more pain, you’re likely sleeping even less, which feeds the viscous cycle of pain.
Breaking the Cycle of Pain
I recently Googled “tips for better sleep,” and it came back with 1.9 billion search results. There’s no shortage of advice out there, much of which you’ve heard before – don’t consume caffeine after 4pm, don’t watch TV in bed… But this advice, while helpful for many, won’t help you if the root cause of your sleep deprivation is a chronic pain condition. In these cases, we must break the cycle of pain.
Try This Tonight
There is something that most people can try to interrupt the pain cycle for short-term relief. Before you go to bed tonight, you can use contrast therapy to help you get a better night’s sleep. Contrast therapy simply means to alternate cold – hot – cold on the affected area.
I recommend applying cold (ice) to the area for 5 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of moist heat (from a microwave bean/rice bag or hot water bottle wrapped in a damp towel), followed again by 5 minutes of cold (ice). When using contrast therapy, it’s important to always begin with ice and end with ice. (Learn more about contrast therapy here.)
Another way that you can accomplish this same goal is to apply cold to the affected area for 5 minutes. Then step into a hot, steamy shower for 10 minutes. Immediately after the shower, put an ice pack back on the area for 10 minutes. This approach works best right before you go to bed.
It’s hard to convince yourself to put that ice pack on the affected area right after you get out of a hot, relaxing shower. But it’s worth it. It will shock your nervous system to temporarily interrupt the pain cycle, and cause it to release the pain reflex. This should help you to sleep better.
Long-Term Pain Relief
The contrast therapy that I describe above is but a short-term fix to help you get a good night’s sleep. What you really need to do is fix the pain.
When I treat patients, I am always looking below the surface to determine and correct the root cause of pain. This is a very different approach than some pain clinics and pain doctors. For example, a steroid injection, nerve block shot, or pain medication may work well to help relieve pain, but none of these approaches is actually doing anything to correct the problem that is causing the pain in the first place. Therefore, when the shot or medication wears off, the pain will return.
The goal of a surgical approach is to offer a more “permanent” solution. But surgeries are expensive, can carry major risks, recovery can last for weeks or months, and success rates are not as high as some might expect. I’ve found that most patients prefer to explore conservative options before resorting to surgery.
At Integrated Pain Solutions, our philosophy is different, our approach is different, and our treatments are different. With a treatment protocol centered on FDA-cleared, non-surgical, drug-free High Intensity Laser Therapy, we are seeing fantastic outcomes for patients suffering from many different types of chronic pain. (Learn more about High Intensity Laser Therapy here).
Contact us for a no-cost consultation at either our Green Bay or Antigo, Wisconsin clinic by calling 844-200-PAIN (7246).
A good night’s sleep is just one thing that you will gain when you get your life back from chronic pain.
Dr. Curt Draeger, DC, DACBOH, CCST is the treating doctor to Team USA’s Olympic decathletes, founder of Integrated Pain Solutions, and co-developer of the latest generation of High Intensity Therapeutic Lasers. His unique chronic pain treatment protocol provides lasting relief and healing to anyone suffering from chronic pain by combining High Intensity Laser Therapy with other manual therapies once reserved exclusively for professional athletes.