Hey, fellow pain and fatigue warrior! Can you let me know if this is you?
You dread bedtime. Relentless pain causes you to toss and turn all night. The clock on the nightstand reminds you how much sleep you are not getting with each passing hour. Finally, you fall asleep only to have the alarm go off a few hours later, telling you it’s time to wake up and greet the morning.
You face the new day exhausted, racked with excruciating pain, and wonder, “How will I ever make it through another day?”
You have pain. You can’t sleep. The lack of sleep increases the pain. The increased pain causes you to sleep even less.
As it continues for weeks, months, or even years, sleep deprivation can rob you of enjoying your life. You see no light at the end of the tunnel.
That was me. I was on a non-stop merry-go-round that was not merry at all. I felt hopeless. I found myself repeatedly thinking, “If I could only get a good night’s sleep!”
I was experiencing pain insomnia (sometimes referred to as painsomnia).
Pain insomnia is the vicious cycle of pain and sleep deprivation or fatigue related to a chronic condition or its treatment. The inability to sleep due to pain.
The awful cycle of never getting enough sleep can lead to feeling depressed, lonely, and desperate to find the right combination of sleep strategies to improve sleep.
Over time, I learned some helpful tips and tricks to get a good night’s sleep. As I share them, please keep in mind that not every night brings blissful sleep for me (last night, for instance!).
These strategies improved my sleeping patterns and helped reduce the frequency of pain insomnia episodes:
Tip #1: Develop Good Bedtime Habits
Have a consistent bedtime
Spend quiet time with people or pets
Soak in the bathtub (Epsom salt baths may help relax tight muscles)
Wind down with relaxation techniques (like reading, guided sleep meditation, bedtime yoga, and deep/diaphragmatic breathing) 30 minutes before bed
Tip #2: Create a Sleep-Promoting Environment
Dim the overhead lights
Turn on soothing background noise
Turn off the TV, computer, and cellphone
Put your phone "to bed" in another room
Keep the room temperature cool
Tip #3: Experiment with Sleep Positions and Pillows
In addition to sleeping on a comfortable bed with supportive pillows, sleeping positions are important to consider. My sleeping position varies throughout the night. Placing pillows in key spots helps keep my spine aligned and puts less strain and pressure on the painful areas of my body.
Depending on your sleeping position, these tricks may help you stay more comfortable:
Sleeping on your back:
Place a pillow under your knees for proper spine alignment
Sleeping on your side:
Place a pillow between your knees to reduce pressure on hips
Sleeping on your stomach:
Place a pillow under your hips to reduce pressure on the lower back
Sleeping in the fetal position:
Place a pillow between your knees to reduce strain on hips
Tip #4: Choose Sleep-Friendly Foods & Beverages
Foods known to help improve sleep quality
Avocados, dark leafy greens, beans, legumes, apples, berries, kiwifruit, bananas, almonds, walnuts, nut butters, chicken, turkey, fish, 100% whole grains, and dark chocolate
Find recipes in our Fibro Friendly Snack Guide!
Fresh herbs can have a calming effect on the body
Sage and basil contain compounds to reduce tension and promote sleep
Limit herbs such as red pepper or black pepper at night (they have a stimulatory effect)
Drink plenty of water throughout the day
Herbal tea such as chamomile or peppermint is a soothing beverage to drink before bedtime
Limit caffeine and alcohol
Avoid heavy meals (take longer to digest and can keep you awake); limit saturated fat, sugar, and salt (causes inflammation and muscle tightness)
Facing pain insomnia can feel overwhelming and impossible to improve sleep quality.
Not sure how to start? Begin with trying different strategies to improve sleep patterns. Focus on creating a sustainable routine by changing one habit at a time. By incorporating these strategies to improve sleeping patterns, you can break the pain insomnia cycle.
Fibromyalgia is not a "one size fits all" diagnosis. What works for some doesn't work for others. The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Should you have any health-related questions, please consult your physician or other health care provider promptly.
Teresa & Hannah are fellow fibromyalgia warriors. Teresa is a certified dietary manager and wellness coach. Hannah is an occupational therapist. Together, we're a mother-daughter duo on a mission to empower others to fight against fibro.