Chronic pain is a frustrating and difficult issue to deal with. Pain can disrupt your sleep, and frustratingly, when you are not getting enough sleep you may find that any pain you suffer from is harder to deal with. Pain and sleep go hand in hand, and as difficult as it may feel at times, getting enough sleep can make a world of difference to any pain that you experience.
Understanding Sleep and Pain Relief
Sleep and pain relief are intertwined, but it can be hard to get one without the other. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 21 percent of Americans experience chronic pain, and more than one third have experienced acute pain in the last week.1 Pain contributes to a ‘sleep debt’ for many of those people, keeping them awake for at least a portion of the night. It’s clear, then, that sleep and pain relief are two things that most of us will find ourselves worrying about at some point in our lives.
Pain impairs sleep quality, and studies show that a lack of sleep can exacerbate chronic pain.2 Sleep disturbances can often contribute to people experiencing more severe chronic pain, by impairing the processes that would normally help to reduce or prevent pain.
What to Do When Pain Disrupts Your Sleep
If we accept that sleep and pain relief are closely related, the obvious question is how can we sleep better? What can we do during bouts of pain to help ensure that we still get a good night’s sleep? One obvious option for sleep and pain relief is to use drugs to dull the pain. Over the counter, painkillers can help with minor pain issues, and there are other forms of pain relief available via prescription, however, these can have unwanted side-effects so may not be an ideal option.
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Natural ways of improving sleep and pain relief are preferable. Simple things such as setting a good bedtime routine can go a long way towards helping people get a good night’s sleep.3 Practicing good sleep hygiene by avoiding caffeine and heavy foods close to bedtime, and by avoiding taking electronic devices to bed can help you to doze off easier, even if you are in pain.
Some people use essential oils to help them sleep. Our Sleepy blend, for example, contains chamomile, kava, and lavender. The idea of using lavender to help with sleep is something that is well-studied and generally supported.4 Other essential oils may also be beneficial, and researchers agree that essential oils could be a good alternative to pharmaceuticals to help people who have mild or moderate sleep issues.5
Physical Activity, Sleep, and Pain
What you do during the day can have a big impact on how you feel at night. If you find yourself constantly struggling to sleep, and you feel stiff and achy, with dull pains, then it may be that physical activity (within the limitations of the condition that is causing you pain) could improve your quality of life.
The Japanese are firm subscribers to a practice known as Shinrin-Yoku, or ‘forest bathing’. This is also known as nature therapy and involves spending time in forests or other natural environments, getting exposure to the terpenes in the flora, to improve overall well-being. While the Japanese have been aware of the benefits of this practice, intuitively, for a long time, it has only been studied extensively by modern scientists in the last few years. Those studies show that people who spend time outside, exposed to nature, benefit from improved sleep, improved wellbeing, reduced perception of pain and reduced stress.7
When you are suffering from chronic pain it can be hard to find the energy to do anything, but if you can get moving, and get some fresh air, that could help to reduce the symptoms of pain in the longer term. Exercising for even a few minutes a day can improve your sleep quality and help to improve your overall physical and mental wellbeing.
Don’t Ignore Your Pain
In western cultures, we are often raised to be stoic and to try to ignore or work through the pain. This is not a good idea. If you are suffering from pain that is very severe or that does not go away with a few days of rest, then you should seek professional medical advice to determine the cause of the pain. Listen to your doctor, and take good care of yourself. Pain can be a warning sign of an underlying medical condition and the sooner it is diagnosed the sooner you can get proper treatment.
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