Sleep & pain

Sleep is a key contributor to chronic pain. Impaired sleep worsens pain, which in turn prevents patients from getting restful sleep. When pursuing treatment for chronic pain, it is important to not overlook simple, non-drug strategies that can markedly improve sleep.

During the day

  • Develop a regular energizing morning routine. Start the day with 3 minutes of stretches at the same time each day.
  • Limit daytime naps to less than 30 minutes
  • Perform aerobic exercises for at least 10 minutes during the day, at least 2 hours before bedtime
  • Ensure exposure to natural light during the day. Light hitting the retina triggers signal to the brain to reduce melatonin, the sleep hormone

Before bed time

  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, soda, chocolate & nicotine for at least 4 hours
  • Avoid fatty, spicy, or sugary foods which can cause gastrointestinal upset
  • Avoid emotionally upsetting activities
  • Use the bed only for sleep
  • Develop a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Consider incorporating mindfulness meditation
  • Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is available as an over-the-counter supplement for sleep aid. Some patients do report drowsiness the next day, so beware of driving or operating heavy machinery

Bed time

  • Use supportive mattress & pillows
  • Reduce sensory stimulation with blackout curtains, eye shades, & ear plugs
  • Maintain comfortable room temperature
  • Some people benefit from background noise from white noise machines
  • Some people find humidifiers & aromatherapy helpful. Humidifiers with filters must be cleaned & maintained regularly
  • Those with allergies will benefit from having an air purifier in the bedroom
  • Some people find weighted blankets helpful for more restful sleep
  • Make sure you have a functioning carbon monoxide detector

Medical devices

  • Those with sleep apnea who have been prescribed CPAP or BiPAP should make an effort to try them. This can have dramatic benefits for some patients.
  • Those diagnosed with bruxism (teeth grinding at night) should wear mouth guards fitted by their dentists.
  • Some musculoskeletal pain conditions that worsen at night benefit from orthotics: wrist brace for carpal tunnel syndrome, foot splint for plantar fasciitis.

Gentle pain treatments

Dr. Ming Kao View All →

Pain physician & PhD computational biologist @StanfordPain • Advanced pain interventions with CIPS & FIPP • Opinions mine & not medical advice

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