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A CRPS Patient's Nightly Debate Between Pain, Medication and Sleep

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When I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, I was largely unaware of the perpetual havoc it would wreak on my life. As my symptoms worsened and my prescription dosages increased, nearly all areas of my life became substantially affected. An aspect of CRPS I continually grapple with is the complicated balance between pain, sleep, medication and the overall cognitive impact.

While lying in bed watching the clock turn to 1:30 a.m., my convoluted pain management debate begins. Should I take my maximum dosage of neuropathic pain medication to dull the burn? Or should I ingest another muscle relaxer to mute the spasms? Or do I ride out the pain and hope it does not reach a truly intolerable level?


My mental debate continues. If I take more medication, I risk cognitive haze in the morning, potentially impacting my ability to perform intellectually demanding tasks. If the pain keeps me awake all night, I am then subjected to similar cognitive fog from sleep deprivation. Even if I achieve sleep without additional medication, I risk appearing unintelligent from the “pain brain” that occurs when my CRPS flares during the day.

This debate is uncomfortably isolating. I have to wonder if other CRPS patients experience a similar dilemma.

After 20 minutes of contemplation, I am unable to come to a definitive conclusion. None of the above is a favorable option. In this moment, all I crave is natural sleep and the pain-free body of a healthy human. I aspire to be a positive, energetic, contributing member to society but the pain makes that challenging. I strive to care for my body but I also desire the cognitive sharpness to pursue my goals.

Even though I partake in versions of this pain debate on a nightly basis, there is rarely a clear-cut answer. I decide to try one last attempt at sleep. I carefully adjust the covers and gently implore my body to drift into a dream.

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Originally published: October 1, 2017
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