Pain and sleep

“Poine” is the Greek goddess, or spirit, of revenge. She punishes mortals who anger the gods. From Poine we get the word “pain,” along with a mythological story that opens a window to our view and perception of the world of pain. It is a tormented picture; to some pain sufferers, their agony feels like torture sent from a higher power.

Pain can limit our daily activities. Back pain, joint pain, a migraine, fibromyalgia or abdominal pain take away your enjoyment of the simple things in life, such as a walk in the woods, gardening or lifting a grandchild.

Pain and sleep are nemesis and simply don’t get along. It is difficult to get a good night sleep with a nagging pain. Many pain-sufferers have insomnia. Pain keeps the brain alert. Pain is a stressor and it keeps sending signals to the brain to remain alert — “There is something wrong, watch out!”

Likewise, a bad night of sleep can make pain harder to tolerate during the day. People who are sleep deprived or lack adequate deep sleep show signs of irritability, muscle aches and pain. This has been seen in patients with fibromyalgia as was noted by sleep researchers Moldofsky and Harvey.

Pain signals are carried through the nerves and on to the spinal cord and eventually to the brain. When you injure yourself, let’s say break a bone, electrical signals travel through the nerves and eventually get to the brain, which is now capable of “sensing” the pain.

Many folks who suffer from chronic pain find relief from pain medications. Some of these medications can affect your sleep quality or can make you sleepy.  It is a good idea to find a balance and adjust the dosing and timing of your medications if possible. Consult your prescribing physicians before your make any changes. Does your medicine make you sleepy during the day? If so, maybe you can take it in the evening or at bedtime. If you need the pain pill during the day, consider taking a brief nap when drowsiness hits you. Some pain pills can make you susceptible to breathing problems if you have any underlying sleep apnea or respiratory issues. Again, know the side effects.

The deeper parts of sleep are important for restoration, growth and healing of body tissue. Deep sleep has other names, such as slow wave sleep, and more technically, stages 3 and 4. At this depth, sleep have healing properties. Growth hormone (GH), which is synthesized and secreted during deep sleep, seems to mediate this process. GH helps repair damages tissue and allow nutrients to enter the cells. GH also stimulates the immune system to increase its germ fighting cells. Have you ever noticed that when you get a cold of flu, you feel sleepy and fatigued? This is your body’s way to force you to go to your bed and sleep; so your body can do its job at fighting the infection better.

Tips on sleeping painless and even better,  painfree

–          Allow meditation, stress reduction techniques, prayer (if you wish), gentle exercise to be part of your pain coping plan.

–          Pain signals go up to the brain, but the brain produces powerful chemicals called endorphins, which are opiate-like chemicals that block pain. Imagine, our own brain cells making pain killers! These endorphins create a soothing effect and reduce the pain. You see, our system creates balance; we make stress hormones, but we also make others that lull the pain and stress. By meditating, relaxing, exercising or simply doing some enjoyable activity, you can increase your brain’s endorphins.

–          Biofeedback therapy works by teaching the individual suffering from pain to measure physical changes as they feel increasing or decreasing pain levels. This feedback is done through instruments that allow the person to see their own physical changes through, for example, brain waves, muscle activity or skin temperature. Such personal observation allows the person to have better control their thoughts and emotions and therefore pain and stress. If you are interested, check out your local community for a trained professional.

–          Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a general term for various types of therapies that aim at changing your feelings by changing your thoughts. This will make you feel better and in some situations reduce pain.

–          Sleep hygiene is important because good sleep habits help you get a good night sleep and can fend off pain.

–          If pain is significant and you are not getting a good night sleep with implementing good sleep habits, please talk to a physician such as a sleep specialist. You might need a sleeping aid to help you sleep. Many people feel bad about taking sleeping pills but have their place. In individuals who suffer from chronic and severe pain such as from cancer or severe arthritis, getting a good night sleep is important for the healing process.