A recent poll found pain to be a major factor in sleep loss.

Do you have trouble falling asleep because of chronic back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or any other pain? Does the pain regularly wake you in the middle of the night, leaving you to stare at the ceiling, unable to get back to sleep because of the constant aches in your body?

An estimated 100 million Americans suffer varying degrees of chronic pain, which is estimated to cost $600 billion a year in medical treatments and lost productivity at work. However, there is another cost of chronic pain that is often ignored – the hours of lost sleep that are a direct result of continuous pain.

A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found pain to be a major factor in sleep loss. According to the “Sleep in America Poll,” people that suffer from chronic pain have a sleep debt of 42 more minutes of sleep each night from their pain, and people suffering from acute pain have a sleep debt of 14 minutes per night.

The study also revealed:

  • 21% of Americans experience chronic pain and 36% have experienced acute pain in the last week.
  • Only 36% of people with chronic pain reported good sleep quality.
  • 23% of those with chronic pain reported higher stress levels compared to 7% of those without pain.
  • 40% of those with chronic pain reported an effect on their productivity at work compared to 17% of those without pain.

Sleep and pain becomes a chicken and egg scenario – which came first?  The two contribute to each other. Experiencing chronic pain can lead to sleep deprivation, but sleep deprivation can also make pain symptoms worse. It can be difficult to determine which is causing the other. This can make getting to the root of the problem tedious.

Pain can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, cause frequent awakenings during the night, or make a person wake earlier than planned without being able to return to sleep. In this regard, pain has both an effect on the quantity of sleep as well as the quality.

People experiencing pain are also much more sensitive to stress, which is another major cause of sleep loss. People in pain are more likely to worry about getting enough sleep and feel like they have less control over the amount and quality of the sleep they get each night.

So, what can you do?  Since quality sleep is has such an impact on overall health and quality of life, it’s important to make sleep a priority, even if you’re not suffering from pain.  Start by practicing good sleep hygiene.  Sleep hygiene is a term that refers to a set of practices or routine that helps promote better sleep.  We all know how important a bedtime routine is for a child.  The same is true for adults.  Here are some good sleep hygiene practices:

  1. Get plenty of exercise – 30 minutes a day 4-5 times per week.
  2. Limit your screen exposure before bedtime – blue light can interfere with sleep.
  3. Drink a warm caffeine free beverage before bed – tea or milk are good choices.
  4. Practice relaxation strategies – yoga, reading or meditation.
  5. Prepare your sleep environment – no TV, a cool temperature, the right lighting.

If you’re struggling with pain and sleep, be sure to touch base with your doctor.  It’s important to rule out sleep disorders such as apnea or restless leg syndrome.  Your doctor may recommend a sleep study before concluding that pain is responsible for your sleep issues.  Most medical professionals will want to rule out problems and improve your sleep hygiene before trying medication.

Most importantly, don’t continue to suffer in silence.  Simply having a higher motivation to make sleep a priority (even for those in pain) can increase the quantity and quality of sleep.