Our patients often want a single answer as to why they have pain in a particular area or in multiple areas. Sometimes it is possible to find that single answer. Usually, the more recent the onset of pain, the more straightforward the diagnosis and cause of pain will be.
But what about people who seem to have pain in multiple areas of the body and who have had pain for years? Many studies showing that poor sleep quality increases pain sensitivity. Specifically, the quality of the sleep, not the length of the slumber, is the most important factor. This includes going to bed but being able to fall asleep, going to sleep quickly and but not staying asleep, and sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder that doesn’t allow people to stay in REM sleep, the deepest and most restorative level of sleep. (The details of the sleep stages is beyond the scope of this blog.)
Tips to improve sleep quality
You can improve the quality of your sleep and hopefully improve your pain with the following tips:
Maintain a sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This includes the weekend. People need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Figure out your schedule and try to stick to it!
Avoid screens for 1 to 2 hours before bed. Avoid television, computers, phones and tablets. The light from the screens decreases your brains melatonin levels and inhibits deep sleep.
Make your bedroom a good sleep environment. The key to a good sleep environment is a dark, cool and comfortable surroundings. Block out disturbing lights. Use a noise machine if your partner snores or makes noise. Use ear plugs and a sleeping mask if it helps.
No alcohol or caffeine before bed. These chemicals have been shown to decrease REM sleep.
Exercise for 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise has been proven to help people sleep, but make sure you don’t exercise too close to bed time. Leave 4 to 6 hours between exercise and bed time.
Ask your doctor about sleep medications.
While sleep quality may not be the only thing that plays a factor in chronic pain, it is at least one of the factors that can be changed if you are willing to take the simple steps listed above.