During the first six years of living with pain, I slept in short catnaps only, and never fell into a deep, restful sleep. During the day, I was a total zombie, stumbling around in a state of severe sleep deprivation.
Does this sound familiar?
Why can’t we sleep? Certain drugs cause insomnia, the discomfort of pain certainly keeps us awake, and worry and stress keep our minds whirling around in circles. These are pretty obvious causes of insomnia.
I became foggier than usual, had terrible headaches, felt nauseated all the time, and, you guessed it, had worse insomnia than ever.
I’m not even sure insomnia was on that scroll of possible side effects, and it wasn’t something my doctor had warned me could happen. Who knew? Anyway, my point is that your medications, yes, the ones that are supposed to be helping you feel less pain so you can get some sleep, may be keeping you awake.
If you think it’s even a remote possibility, talk to your doctor about lowering your dosage, or obtaining a different prescription. You may have to experiment for while and, of course, do this only under your doctor’s supervision.
I found that herbal teas were both natural relaxants and have pain reduction attributes as well and worked better for me than medications. The best of these, for me, was chamomile. Also, believe it or not, my mother’s old cure-all of warm milk and honey helped.
Maybe part of the efficacy of these home-brewed remedies is that they are soothing and warm and have associations with childhood memories of being taken care of by a loving hand.
How much comes from the ingredients and how much comes by association really doesn’t matter to me if they do the trick. Maybe you had a bedtime ritual when you were a kid that might help now. Who is going to fault a placebo if it helps you feel better?
Anxiety, besides keeping me awake, made my pain levels soar, so I had to learn to quiet my raging terrors and to turn down the volume on my brain’s churning and whirling through sheer force of will.
It takes a lot of courage and fortitude to do this, but we really can’t afford to raise stress levels through nighttime worries. It’s important to learn to soothe nerves and quiet frantic brain activities in order to sleep. I created a downloadable Fear Protocol which you may find useful.
When we’re dealing with chronic pain, the body never really relaxes. It perceives an ongoing threat to its well being and remains tense and ready for battle, so we need to do something to mitigate this strain on the system.
I learned to consciously put my attention on noticing that there were no immediate dangers offering new threats to my survival. Whatever had happened to hurt my body had already happened, so I didn’t need my body to be so watchful.
I talked to my body calmly and told it that the immediate danger had passed. I consciously and deliberately noticed (again and again) that I had, indeed, survived another day.
Unused Physical Energy
I realized that because I couldn't really exercise with my condition, I had excess nervous energy and it was keeping me awake and adding to my discomfort. The only physical exercise I could get was walking, so I took extra short walks and that helped tremendously. The difference between not walking and walking 20 minutes was radical. Adding an extra walk not only helped with insomnia, it helped me sleep more deeply.
If you are not very mobile, try doing chair yoga, or even small, repetitive movements with your arms and legs. Whatever isn’t in pain - if it can be moved - move it. It also helps keep the lymph flowing through your body.
For those of you who can move only very minimally, it has been shown that the imagination can fool the body into thinking something is real. Use your creative imagination to do the things you can’t presently do physically. Take yourself for a hike, or go skiing, or ice skating, or swimming in your mind. Feel your body moving through the water, or walking on a dirt path in the woods, or gliding over the snow. Let yourself really go with it. Amazingly, it can help the body relax and release some of its pent up energy.
I hope some of these suggestions will be of use to you. You certainly may have others to add to the list, so feel free to share them in the comments section.