When Chronic Pain Keeps Me Up at Night


I cannot begin to count the number of times I have been told to “go to bed,” “just sleep it off” or “you’ll feel better after you sleep.” As much as I know that sleep will help with my pain and give my body a much needed boost of energy, it is more often than not, not as simple as just lying down and drifting off into a quiet, fitless slumber. It is a process of: Are my pajamas or clothing comfy enough? The room dark and quiet enough? Do I have the right pillows to support my neck and joints? Is the temperature right? And the biggest question of all, is my pain tolerable or low enough for me to sleep?

I know that seems somewhat counter-intuitive, since many can sleep and want to sleep when in a great deal of pain. Sleep provides us temporary relief in our slumber and a break from feeling pain, while also giving us vital energy to help our bodies heal and cope. However, if my pain is not within manageable limits or I cannot find a position that maintains or lowers my pain score, I won’t sleep, despite the relief it can bring and that I so longingly desire. Welcome to “painsomnia.”

Painsomnia – the inability to sleep, although your body is tired and you are sleepy, due to presence of pain.

Almost everyone, with or without chronic pain, has struggled with insomnia. Whether it is stress-induced or your body communicating a sense of excitement, you have had at least one night where you want to sleep, and even feel drowsy or the need to sleep, but cannot. For healthy individuals, a night of insomnia means an extra cup of coffee to get your motor running the next morning. But for those with chronic pain, a night without sleep can be detrimental to their productivity, pain control and overall health.

Painsomnia is probably one of my top five frustrations with chronic pain because I know the value of sleep and how badly my body needs it to keep my pain under control, yet my body fights sleep because of the pain. It is one of the things I have yet to figure out how to deal with regarding my chronic pain. My current course of action is not sleeping for upwards of five nights before my body just collapses in exhaustion and I have no choice but to sleep, in any position, location and at any time my body chooses to give out. The worst part is that you would think after a bought of painsomnia, the rest you get would be fulfilling. However, it usually isn’t. It is just enough rest to bring you back to a baseline energy and eventually begin the painsomnia cycle all over again.

The sad truth is, sleep is not simple for those of us dealing with chronic pain. I have spent many sleepless nights fighting my body for sleep. Despite knowing its importance and how much better I can feel with a full night’s rest, sleep evades me as my pain fiercely battles my body from being comfortable enough to drift off. Painsomnia is frustrating, as we know sleep will help our pain, yet our pain is depriving us of the healing rest our bodies crave. Lack of sleep leads to increased pain, which leads to more painsomnia and the cycle continues. Painsomnia is something many of us battle every day in our fight against chronic pain and it robs us of much needed rest, so please understand that sleep is not always easy for us.

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