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Sleep and Chronic Illness

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Sleep problems can be due to a chronic illness, such as diabetes, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, lupus, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis.

How Does Chronic Illness Affect Sleep?

The pain and fatigue that people with chronic illness experience has a large impact on their daily lives, including sleep. Because of their illness, these patients often have trouble sleeping at night, and are sleepy during the day. This is especially the case for people who have neurological (nervous system) diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can make the person's pain and quality of life worse. In addition, some drugs used to treat chronic illnesses can cause sleep problems.

People who have a chronic illness may also suffer from depression or anxiety, which can also cause sleep problems.

How Are Sleep Problems With Chronic Illness Treated?

The first step to treating sleep problems linked to chronic illnesses is to try to control the pain associated with the illness. Once pain is controlled, sleeping may not be a problem. Your doctor can prescribe the appropriate pain-relieving medication that suits your condition.

If following adequate pain control, you are still experiencing sleep problems, these simple steps may help.

  • Keep noise in the room and surrounding area down as much as possible.
  • Sleep in a dark room.
  • Keep the room temperature as comfortable as possible.
  • Eat or drink foods that induce sleep, such as warm milk.
  • Avoid naps during the day.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine.

There are a number of other non-medicinal approaches that are effective for sleep problems, including biofeedback, relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and sleep restriction techniques. These therapies are most often administered by a psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders. Learn about behavioral treatments for insomnia and other sleep problems.

If these methods are not effective, there are several prescription medications to help people sleep. These agents include zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata) as well as benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), antidepressants, antihistamines, and antipsychotics. For patients who have chronic pain and depression, insomnia may best be treated with tricyclic antidepressants. Learn about medications used to treat insomnia.

It's usually a good idea to try non-drug pain-reducing methods before turning to sleeping pills. When sleeping pills are prescribed, it's best to use them for a short time only (less than two weeks). If they are used for longer periods, sleep medications may cause tolerance and psychological dependence.

Talk to your doctor to find the best sleep solution for you.



WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Lisa B. Bernstein, MD on June 05, 2015
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