Hope everyone’s doing well! I’m back this week to discuss the topic of insomnia, an issue which affects a lot of chronic pain sufferers, as well as those who don’t suffer from chronic pain.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes difficulty falling asleep, and staying asleep. And it is estimated that around 60 million Americans suffer from this condition and sleep disturbances which affect their daily lives.
Insomnia can have a wide variety of causes; though, generally, it’s a result of anxiety disorders or episodes. And those who can’t sleep, often spend hours trapped in an endless cycle of overthinking, going over possibilities, wondering if they forgot the stove on…
And all this thinking doesn’t allow anyone to relax and fall asleep. It causes even more anxiety, making sleep become seemingly impossible.
However, there are other possible, more specific causes for it, like chronic pain, which can cause people to have a really hard time falling asleep when it’s intense enough, or trauma (physical or emotional), which can cause the brain to be too alert as a defence mechanism in response to previous menacing situations.
Chronic Pain and Sleep: Chronic Pain Insomnia
A problem of millions…
I recently visited the Health and Sciences Center of the University of New Mexico, which is the home of the Pain Management Clinic of the Hospital, and I had a fascinating conversation with their clinical staff about chronic pain and sleep issues.
When you consider that about 21% of the U.S. population, more than 50 million people, are suffering from chronic pain right now and that a full 25% of them have been diagnosed with sleep disorders, it becomes a clear mass health issue. Not to mention that there are millions who don’t suffer from diagnosed chronic pain, but do suffer from insomnia.
And, though 25% of the 50 million who suffer from chronic pain, have also been diagnosed with insomnia, we know very well that there are a lot of individuals who have not been diagnosed, but still are experiencing sleep problems caused by their condition.
Believe me, if you’ve ever had insomnia or difficulty with sleep, you know how important restorative sleep is with pain or injury. If we’re not getting enough sleep, and we’re exhausted, there’s going to be inflammation in the brain, we’re going to be more sensitive to pain signals, our mood is going to be affected, and anxiety and stress are going to increase.
All these consequences of poor sleep will cause our body to heal more slowly and not repair itself as it should. And that is not a good place to address or deal with the challenges life brings our way.
So, what I want to talk to you about today is what we can actually do to improve our sleep cycles. And there are a few things we can work on easily, from home, without taking medication or strong sleeping pills that could be dangerous.
The hard part is making it a priority, turning it into a habit; once you get used to it, it’ll be second nature, and you will reap all the benefits, which include improved mood, healing, focus, less anxiety, and a lot less pain!
How to Deal with Insomnia? “Good Sleep Hygiene”
What we can work on at home, without needing health professionals or medication is developing “good sleep hygiene”.
This is a term that you might, or might not have heard. It’s not, as it suggests, necessarily about cleanliness. It is, however, a holistic approach towards improving your sleep, both in length and in quality; it’s a plan of action that attacks insomnia from all angles
1 Have a Sleep Routine
One of the first things that you should invest some effort into is developing a sleep routine; this means being consistent about the time you go to bed, and the time you wake up. That is a critical thing, even if it doesn’t seem very important.
Also, creating a routine around your sleep patterns can be extremely powerful and helpful. So, for example, drinking some chamomile tea before bed every night would be a good habit; reading a few pages from the book of your choice, something that signals to your body that it’s time to sleep, almost like training the brain. This is the first step.
2 Create a Positive Sleep Environment
Transform your bedroom into a sleep shrine. That would include a comfortable bed, a dark sleeping environment, and even keeping your room cool. Yes, cool… About 68°F has been found to be the ideal, comfortable sleeping temperature. If you’re too hot, or freezing cold, it’s going to disrupt your sleep.
3 Make Your Bedroom a Sacred Space
One of the other things you can do is making sure you keep your bedroom for only two things: Sleeping and sex. Do your best not to turn it into your office, and don’t watch TV, because that trains the brain to think that the bedroom or when we crawl into bed is for something other than relaxing, winding down, and getting some good, deep sleep.
4 Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques like meditation, light yoga, or deep breathing, can help you let go of the day, the business, the stress, and calm the body. And that’s very, very important.
Meditation has also been shown to help reduce pain in people who suffer from chronic conditions or are dealing with an injury.
5 Avoid Artificial Lights and Screens
One of the most important things that I think we can all agree on is the modern phenomenon of artificial light. Light that’s in the blue and green spectrum is going to tell your brain to stop signaling the production of melatonin, which is our natural sleeping hormone. So blue or green light is going to interrupt the natural sleep chemistry and tell your body to be alert when it shouldn’t.
We, as humans, have over 2000 light receptors in our eyes, which function with the circadian rhythm, the cycle of the sun coming up and coming down. This cycle really does a lot to regulate how we spend our days, and sleep is a huge part of our day, which is regulated by it.
And, when we’re looking at screens, or have artificial lights on, what we’re doing is telling our bodies that it’s daytime, that we need to be alert and awake.
With this in mind, what we can do is to avoid artificial lights and screens at least 2 hours before we’re crawling into bed. To have a light source, you can use more natural light bulbs or dim the lights; you can even use red light bulbs, which actually eliminate the blue and green spectrum. You can even wear funky glasses! Just pick up a pair of orange tinted glasses, they can be inexpensive. What they do is block blue and green light; so wear them for a couple of hours before bed and blue/green light won’t affect you as much.
6 Avoid stimulants and depressants
Stimulants and depressants, such as alcohol and caffeine should be avoided before bed. But the rules are different depending on the substance.
For example, caffeine has, on average, an 8 hour half-life in the body; this means that 8 hours after you have your cup of coffee, half of that caffeine is still floating around in your bloodstream, stimulating your body and brain. On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant; it may get you to sleep a little quicker, but it’s going to disturb the quality of that sleep. And when you have insomnia, you don’t just want to fall asleep, you want good quality, good duration, and deep restorative sleep.
A lot of people suffer from disturbed sleep cycles that are not restorative. So, avoiding alcohol two to four hours before you go to bed, is ideal… And don’t overdo it, since it takes about an hour for the body to metabolize one serving of alcohol.
A Good Night’s Sleep is the Goal
Bringing all these steps and techniques together is a great strategy that is very likely to help you treat your chronic pain induced sleep issues. Because, remember, sleep is your friend; it brings us recovery, healing, and better overall health.
Our body really needs that. So, focusing or making sleep a priority, can be a powerful ally in our long term pain management and improve your quality of life. I hope this was useful information! And feel free to share your opinions and experiences in the comments!