Patient’s Perspective - Sleeping Well With Chronic Pain

chronic pain patient sleeping

When you mention the word ‘sleep’ to someone living with chronic pain, don’t be surprised if we recoil into ourselves and go on a rant about how difficult it is. At some point in our lives everyone is going to struggle with sleeping, but it can become a daily battle when you live with persistent pain. Whether pain is keeping you awake, being unable to get comfortable or struggling with fatigue during the day, there are a variety of different ways in which poor sleep can make our lives more challenging. Perfecting my sleep routine has been a long journey that has taken years to perfect, and even now curveballs are still thrown my way forcing me to readjust my routine. Today I’ll be talking about what my sleep journey looks like, and how you can begin to improve your relationship with sleep.

In module 8 of the Leva Clinic Pain Management Programme we talk about sleep, and how it can often be a vicious circle when you live with chronic pain. Pain can make sleep more difficult, but a lack of sleep can then make it challenging to manage your pain. For a long time I couldn’t see a way to break this cycle, I would often sleep in until 11am or later and wonder why I felt so rubbish during the day. I’d always believed that more sleep was the solution, I simply just needed more rest. But, as we learn in the programme, there is such a thing as too much rest.

It was when I started building myself a sleep routine that things improved. I considered not just my routine at night but also the decisions I was making during the day, because the choices we make in the day can heavily impact how we sleep. We all know that caffeine can keep us awake, and that we probably shouldn’t be using our phones before bed, but for me the biggest realisation was that sleeping in late was doing me more harm than good.

Instead of waking up at 11am, I now wake up between 7am and 8am and it has completely changed how I sleep. I also used to spend a lot of time in bed before I got up, but now I cap that time at 30 minutes because I actually find that the sooner I get up and moving, the better I feel. Waking up earlier also means that my body actually has a good amount of time to become tired throughout the day, meaning that when I get into bed I’m ready to sleep, rather than lying awake for hours. It took me years to realise that waking up so late meant that when it came time to wind down to sleep, I’d not actually been awake for that long.

One tool that has also really helped my sleep is my alarm clock that gradually lights up in the mornings, it is a much gentler start to the day than an abrupt and loud noise! Mine also works at night in a similar way, but in reverse, gradually dimming the light to try and replicate the sun going down, which naturally triggers your circadian rhythm. This is our internal process that regulates our sleep-wake patterns, and the light dimming is a signal to our brains that it’s time to sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep or are waking up feeling groggy, I can really recommend this kind of alarm clock.

Of course life can be unpredictable and our sleep routines need to adapt and change, most recently I experienced this when I had heart surgery. I knew going into it that my sleeping habits were going to have to be adjusted massively, so I made sure ahead of time that I had all the tools I needed to get a good night's sleep. It’s important to stick to the same sleep routine everyday as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make changes along the way as and when needed. Creating your perfect sleep routine is all about figuring out what works for you, because we all have different needs and different priorities in life. You’ll find that the “trial and error” process is a common one when managing chronic pain!

You can learn more about the importance of sleep and creating your own sleep routine in module 8 of the Leva Clinic Pain Management Programme.