People who suffer from chronic pain know firsthand how difficult it can be to get a good night’s sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, one in five Americans suffer from chronic pain. A majority of these individuals report inferior sleep quality, and one in four people with chronic pain have a sleep disorder.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of US adults report they are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep. Sleep deprivation is linked to many conditions and diseases including depression and heart disease that threaten our country’s health.
What is healthy sleep? “It’s a combination of quantity and quality,” says Dr. Jeffrey Gudin, who is board certified in pain management, anesthesiology and addiction medicine. “You may have poor sleep even though you spend seven to eight hours in bed each night. Sleep can be disrupted by factors such as chronic pain, stress or anxiety, and medication side effects.”
“I find that my mid-level aches and pains tend to loom larger when I lie down for the night,” says Barby Ingle, President, International Pain Foundation (iPain), reality TV personality and chronic pain sufferer. “Being in pain makes falling and staying asleep more difficult. A welcome alternative for people who avoid taking pills, like me, is topical analgesic pain relief – as found in patches and gels. When I’m in pain, I smooth a patch over the area where I need relief, and it sticks there, soothing the pain away.”
Research led by Dr. Gudin and Clarity Science, which studied the Salonpas Pain Relieving Patch, found that patients treated with the patch reported greater reductions in pain severity, better quality of life outcomes including better quality sleep due to a 58.3% decrease in pain, and less usage of oral pain medicines than those patients who were not treated with the patch.
Dr. Samuel Pegram, a noted rheumatologist based in Austin, Texas, recommends sticking to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends. “This helps regulate your body clock so you can fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Dr. Pegram.
Pegram also advocates for daily exercise. “Cardiovascular exercise is important to improve chronic back and joint pain.”
“Learning and practicing self-care is also key,” says Ingle. “It could be remembering to take deep breaths or meditate as you fall asleep to help lower cortisol and other stress hormones. Stop worrying if you can’t sleep. Stress and worry just leads to disturbances in the nervous system as you watch the clock ticking and time running. Removed the clock from the room or turn it around so that you can’t see the time.”
“It is important to make a strong association between the bed and sleeping so that the bedroom is a calming haven,” adds Ingle. “It’s important to go to bed when your energy level is down, so look for signs of sleepiness. Tracking your pain level, sleep patterns and activities in a journal helps you see patterns. Keeping a journal not only helps me see patterns like how topical analgesics help improve my sleep, it also helps me communicate more effectively with my providers about my health and sleep needs. You can adjust your treatment plans goals more appropriately.”
“Following some basic sleep hygiene strategies can help prepare your body for sleep,” says Dr. Pegram. “Good sleep habits start in the morning, so make sure you get enough sunlight, exercise early in the day, and follow a healthy diet. Avoid stimulants like screens, caffeine, or alcohol too close to bed. Meditation can also help cope with the pain and help with a better quality of sleep.”