Sleep Issues Linked with Chronic Pain

Valerian root photo by oKikos

Valerian root photo by oKikos

Shocker, right? it’s kind of a catch-22. I can’t sleep because I’m in pain, and the fact that I’m not sleeping adds to my pain. I can’t win. According to a study on Arthritis & Rheumatology, researchers found that non-restorative sleep, a type of sleep where a person wakes up feeling unrested no matter how many hours they slept, “was the strongest predictor of new onset WP [widespread pain].”

So this study begs the question, are sleep issues causing widespread pain like that experienced in fibromyalgia? I could go either way with this one. On one hand, when I am exhausted and have insomnia, inevitably I feel terrible in the morning. The thing is, with me, I don’t remember I time when I slept well. From the time I was a young teenager I had trouble falling asleep. The chronic pain came many years later.

We all know sleep is beneficial to your overall health. Getting a good night’s sleep aids in memory recall, as well as mental alertness. When I person has periods no insomnia it can lead to lethargy, irritability, and an increased risk of certain diseases. So let’s get this straight…when you don’t get enough sleep, you become irritable — another shocker.

So what do those of us with sleep issues and autoimmune diseases do? For many of us, pain is adding to sleep issues. My doctor prescribed a muscle relaxer for me to take at night (Flexeril). I also have Xanax to relax. I can tell you that neither one of them help me get to sleep. The Xanax worked for a while, but I think you build up a tolerance to it.

About 9 million U.S. adults use prescription sleep aids to ensure quality rest, according to a recent CDC study. But experts caution that sleeping pills aren’t always effective or safe, and many think their use should be limited.

Tips for Falling Asleep without Medication

Put away the electronics.

I’m guilty of this, and in fact it’s going to be a hard habit to break. When I can’t sleep I am online reading, writing, researching, or just playing stupid online games (Damn, Candy Crush!). It’s best if you put your phone to bed in another room, and turn the laptop off about 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep. The other tough one for me is to shut the television off. Watching TV and playing on the computer actually stimulate the brain. You may start out thinking “oh I’ll just put on this episode of CSI until I fall asleep. Then what happens? Of course you need to know the ending, and if you’re like me, you will finish watching it.

Don’t laugh but I watched someone one of the morning news shows who said that wearing a pair of orange colored glasses an hour before bed with help the body produce it’s own melatonin. Wouldn’t that just freak my family out if I put on some orange goggles at 9pm. I can hear the screams and laughter already!

Limit Your Intake of Caffeine

As someone who suffers from migraines, I only have caffeine when I am suffering with a migraine headache. Otherwise I’ve eliminated it from my diet. I have never been a coffee drinker, but I know plenty of people that don’t even want to be spoken to before their first cup of coffee. Far be it for me to tell them to give that up. There are benefits in limiting you caffeine intake to the morning or early afternoon. Skip the caffeine full soda with dinner as caffeine in the evening can definitely mess with your sleep. Caffeine stimulated the nervous system. Maybe you’ve even tried one of those energy drinks full of caffeine to get you through an afternoon or work or classes. While it’s true that caffeine affects some people more than others, a good rule of them is not to drink anything with caffeine after 3pm.

A Hot Shower

I always thought there was nothing more relaxing than a hot bath (and I still find it relaxing), but research shows that when you come out of a warm shower into a cooler bedroom, your body temperature will drop. That drop in temperature signals your body that it’s time to rest, slowing down essential metabolic functions including heart rate, breathing, and digestion. The problem with the bath, for me, is that I like it super hot to help with muscle stiffness and pain. This can actually backfire on the relaxation end and make you feel more energetic.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Developed in 1915, this technique will never get old. “Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation in exercise where you systematically tense and then relax all the muscle groups of your body,” according to the clinical director of UPenn Medicine’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program Phil Gehrman, Ph.D., told Everyday Health.

The exercise generally starts with you lying down and taking a few deep breaths. First tense your toes and hold then in that tensed position for a few moments, then relax the toes. You will feel a greater awareness of the muscles in you toes as you release the tension. Continue this working up your body with the calves, thighs, buttocks, abdominals, hands, arms, and even your face. Plan to take a full 5-10 minutes to complete the progressive muscle relaxation technique.

I’ll be honest and tell you that even though this is a very effective technique, when I was pregnant, my husband, who played college football, tried to talk me through a progressive relaxation session to help me sleep. He said they used it to clear their minds before a football game. Just a small note that I found it easier to talk myself through it. Listening to my husband trying to sound soothing and calm made me laugh so hard that tears were coming down my face. The harder I tried to relax, the more I’d laugh at him, which he didn’t appreciate (but it was hysterical)

Meditate
Similar, to progressive muscle relaxation, meditation works by bringing awareness to the stress in your body and letting it go.  Focus on your breathing, feeling your belly rise and fall with each breath. As your worries and issues from the day come to mind, let them go and come back to your breathing. It helps me to focus on a two-syllable word like serene or tranquil so I can breathe in during the first syllable and breath out during the second.

There are many online tips for meditation. This is one I like from the Huffington Post.

Consider a Supplement
While natural supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, they can be effective in helping you fall asleep. The most popular supplement is Melatonin, which can be an extremely effect sleep aid. One thing to note about melatonin, is that instead of taking it right before bed, try taking it an hour or two before bedtime. During this time the body creates it’s own melatonin as you wind down from the day. Adding the supplement will help keep that circadian rhythm.

Another herbal supplement option is valerian root. A few small studies have given inconclusive results, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health. That being said, there are a lot of people online that swear by valerian root.

Don’t forget there is also Sleepy Time tea, and other brand that help promote a good night’s sleep with herbs like valerian root in it. I’m not sure the teas work for me, but I really enjoy the taste of it, and I figure it can’t hurt.

Feedback Welcome

Let me know if any of these tips work for you. I’m always looking for new ways to fall asleep with medication, so please feel free to comment on this post with your ideas or email me to autoimmunemama@gmail.com. I’m off to try the progressive relaxation sans the husband. Perhaps it won’t be as funny this time around.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep to all!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: