Monday, April 12, 2010

Better sleep, less pain, easier life



Sleep can be a big problem, sometimes, even when you are healthy.


Imagine trying to sleep when your back is aching, or when sharp pains are shooting down your arm. Imagine trying to sleep when your head and neck hurt even to touch the pillow.


Trying to find a comfortable position in bed. Trying to return to sleep each time your pain and injuries wake you up during the night. Trying to calm down after each disruption. Trying not to think about how long this has been going on – even though it may have been months or even years.


This is a small sample of life with chronic pain - at least the tip of the iceberg.


Fortunately, professionals who work in this field know the importance of sleep. For example, Professor Charles Morin, from the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, has written an excellent review of insomnia research, Chronic Insomnia: Recent Advances and Innovation in Treatment Developments and Dissemination. He discusses how scientists have made great strides in understanding insomnia and in developing new methods of helping people.


Here are some simple suggestions to help your sleep and, hopefully, to help lessen your pain a little.


  1. Don’t try to skip your pain medication at night. Your sleep medication can help your sleep, help lessen your fatigue the next day, help reduce insomnia related flare-ups of pain and help you cope better.

  1. Plan and prepare for sleeping. Set a regular time for sleep. In the hours leading up to bedtime, avoid activities that cause you extra pain or extra stress. Avoid activities that are too interesting or too stimulating. Your goal is to wind down and relax.

  1. Learning how to relax is important, but not always so easy when you live in pain. One of my patients found her own way to help settle into sleep. She goes to her husband and each of her children, smiles, hugs them and tells them she loves them. She doesn’t rush this. She wants the warm feelings to sink in. This is a nightly ritual they all enjoy.

  1. Many people who live in pain are helped by anti-depressant medication. This makes sense, of course. If long-term pain doesn’t make you feel burned out, nothing will. This medication has a triple benefit and is not addictive. It can help with sleep (especially staying asleep). It can help you feel more in control of your irritability and moods. And, it can help you cope with and tolerate your pain better. This medication can also make life a little easier on your family (which helps you as well).

More help is available from the Canadian Sleep Society.


Stay tuned to this site and please sign up. I will be following up with more on this vitally important topic. More understanding and more suggestions are soon to come.


Yours with care,

Michael MacDonald, Ph.D.,

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