No matter if you are recovering from an injury or illness or suffering from chronic pain, pain often seems to get worse at night. You may wake up feeling better, and when bedtime rolls around, you feel not only worn out but achy and painful. Researchers have even given this a name, “painsomnia.”
Several factors can cause pain at night, such as a muscle ache or joint pain. You can tell the difference in this way. Joint pain feels like it comes straight from the joint itself, while muscle pains seem to come from the fleshy area of muscle between the joints. Joint pain can be caused by Fibromyalgia, arthritis, injuries, and even diet.
Other reasons your pain feels worse could be that cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone, is naturally lower at night. Or that staying in one position all night causes you to stiffen up. It may also be that the way you experience pain changes at night, and although the pain level is the same, it just bothers you more. We decided to take a look into why you may be feeling painsomnia and what you can do about it.
Neuropathic Pain and Circadian Rhythms
For some, pain seems pretty simple – you feel pain, you take some pain meds, and it goes away. But pain is a lot more complicated than that for others. New research indicates there may be a connection between headaches and neuropathic pain and our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are your body’s built-in clock.
As you may have assumed by its name, neuropathic pain is caused by conditions that involve the spinal cord, brain, or nerve fibers. It can feel like electric, burning, or shooting pain. In these instances, even something as simple as putting on your socks can cause severe pain.
People with different conditions generally have pain at different times of the day. People suffering from inflammatory conditions such as migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, and toothaches tend to have pain in the morning. Those who have neuropathic pain such as diabetic neuropathy, prosthetic neuralgia, and cancer generally have worse pain at night.
How to Reduce Neuropathic Pain
If you are living with chronic pain, rest is especially important. Because your circadian rhythm can affect neuropathic pain, keeping a regular sleep schedule can help you fall asleep easier. This will help you empower your natural sleep cycle. Your body will become used to a consistent schedule, which can help you fall asleep faster.
Stop drinking caffeine 4-6 hours prior to going to bed and try to drink less of it overall. The goal is to let your body get tired and ready to rest. In addition, caffeine can overstimulate your nerves and intensify pain. These actions can help anyone sleep better but are especially important if you suffer from nerve pain.
Neuropathic pain is not the only reason you may feel more pain at night. If you know you do not suffer from neuropathic pain, read on for more reasons.
Your Brain May Pay More Attention at Night
Ever notice how some people feel pain differently? What seems like minor pain to you may seem like major pain to someone else. The mind plays a significant role in the perception of pain. During the day, you are usually focusing on things such as school, work, and family activities. At night, when these distractions have receded, it’s easy for your brain to focus only on your pain.
There is some evidence to suggest that being distracted can cause you to feel less pain, so it makes sense that you would feel more pain when you are less distracted. In a study where the participants were subjected to slight pain and then asked to do a mental test, they reported that they felt less pain. The participants were also given a placebo cream to combat pain, and the mental test was a much more effective pain reliever.
How to Relax and Distract Your Brain
Use techniques such as deep breathing, positive thinking, yoga, and meditation to help control your pain at night. A guided mediation where you relax each body part is a good one to try. You can do it lying down in bed as you drift off to sleep. These techniques take your mind off the pain and help you relax. Or you could try gentle yoga poses that you can do in bed. Lying on your back, bring your knees to your chest and relax for five breaths. Spinal twists are always great, so with your legs still bent, drop your knees to one side for a few breaths, then switch sides.
Although we recommend that you don’t exercise within an hour before bedtime, daily exercise can help you get a good night’s sleep. Researchers don’t completely understand how exercise helps improve sleep quality. But they do know that aerobic exercise can increase how much slow-wave sleep we get. Slow-wave sleep is the deep sleep we need to help our brains and bodies get the rest they need. Exercise also helps decompress your mind and even out your moods.
Check with your physician to discuss what activities are safe for your condition.
Your Sleep Environment May Be to Blame
However, there are real factors at night that can cause you to feel more pain. For instance, cold temperatures can make your joints achier. Also, things such as dust can aggravate respiratory conditions and make issues such as sleep apnea worse. As you sleep and your breathing cadence becomes slower, more carbon dioxide enters your bloodstream, which in turn causes your blood vessels to dilate and your nerve endings to be more sensitive.
How to Improve Your Sleeping Space
Maintaining a sleep routine and relaxing sleeping space is the key to a restful night. Make it a habit to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Getting up early has many advantages, including promoting a better sleep cycle. Turn off all screens, including your smartphone and the TV, at least two hours before going to sleep.
If your bedroom doesn’t make you feel relaxed, it may be difficult for you to fall asleep. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and gives you the right support. You don’t want added stiffness from sleeping on a mattress that isn’t right for you. And keep your bedroom dark and comfortable so that other environmental factors won’t disturb your sleep. Try these bedroom hacks to help you sleep better.
You May Be Suffering from Inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s first response to injury and a mechanism for healing. However, sometimes your body goes overboard with this response, and when that happens, it means your body is having a prolonged inflammatory response that results in chronic inflammation. This can result in chronic pain that disrupts your sleep.
How to Fight Inflammation
If you think the cause of your pain may be chronic inflammation, consider changing up your diet to decrease the amount of inflammation in your body. There is strong evidence to support that foods rich in specific antioxidants called polyphenols have an anti-inflammatory effect that can prevent painful flare-ups and lessen their impact if they do happen. Foods high in polyphenols include whole fruits, legumes, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, and whole grains.
In addition, researchers have identified some foods that can help you sleep, so changing your diet can also improve the quality of your sleep. We also know that various foods contain melatonin, and melatonin can help you sleep, so eating these foods can make you sleepy or help you sleep better. Try eating foods such as kiwi, tart cherries or cherry juice, malted milk, fatty fish, nuts, and rice and see if you find you sleep better and without pain.
Check with your doctor before making major changes to your diet.
Slower Circulation in the Body
Our circulatory system works better during the day when we are generally upright and moving around. At night, when we are lying down, the circulatory system slows down and pumps less fluids through our systems, which can cause mild to moderate discomfort, swelling in the joints, and muscle cramps as well as slow the healing of injuries.
How to Improve Your Circulation While Sleeping
Using pillows to support your head and neck while you sleep can help align your body and improve your circulation. Stay hydrated during the day to improve the blood flow in your body. In addition, elevate your feet at night by placing a pillow under your feet. Keep your body in alignment by placing a pillow between your legs if you sleep on your side. These things can help improve your circulation and possibly relieve pain.
Try Traditional Remedies and Acupuncture
Whether you know the cause of your pain or not, you can try traditional remedies or acupuncture. The efficacy of these remedies can be subjective. While there is some science to back them up, they don’t seem to work for everyone. Some people swear by flower essences for pain relief, although there is no clear evidence about whether or not they are effective. In much the same way, some people swear by acupuncture for pain management, while others have not found it to offer any relief. With these and other traditional remedies, give them a try. If they work for you, then they work.
There are several pain-relieving herbs and spices you can try to ease inflammation and arthritis pain. People have used these remedies for centuries. For example, clove has been used to relieve the pain of toothaches and has been found to be as effective as benzocaine gel. Ginger is another traditional remedy proven to help ease muscle pain. Some of these herbs interact with medications you may be taking, so be sure to check with your doctor before you try any of them.
The bottom line when it comes to relieving pain at night is that you may have to try several different methods before you find the right one for you. It may even take a combination of a few methods to get the results you want.
A Note from GR8NESS
Of course, you should follow whatever treatment plan your physician has given you. However, these ideas may help reduce pain and sleep better at night. If “painsomnia” lasts for more than a few weeks, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Keep track of the severity of your pain at night and how it is affecting your sleep. This will help your physician determine the best medications and pain management strategy for you.