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Different Types of Pain

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the types of pain that most commonly cause insomnia are back pain; headaches; and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, which causes pain around the ears and jaw muscles. Muscoloskeletal pain, including arthritis and fibromyalgia, can also cause sleep problems. Cancer pain, resulting from the disease itself and treatment, also leads to trouble sleeping. Pain that follows surgery can also prevent much-needed rest.

As Falco points out, current research shows that there are more commonalities than differences between types of pain when it comes to insomnia. A few of the nuances researchers have identified include the following:  

  • The intense nature of pain after surgery and other acute pain seems to affect both the length and quality of sleep.
  • Chronic arthritis pain appears to interfere with circadian rhythms. A recent Japanese study found a relationship between a person’s body clock and arthritis symptoms. More specifically, researchers discovered that certain genes affecting circadian rhythms may activate a molecule that sparks inflammation in people with arthritis. The relationship between this molecule, called TNF-alpha, and circadian rhythms may explain why people with arthritis have worse joint pain in the morning.   
  • In people with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes joint and muscle pain, there are constant bursts of “awake” brain activity which prevents deep sleep. In a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology, people with fibromyalgia had two times as many awakenings per hour as people without the disease.


Managing Pain That Steals Your Sleep

The first step is to reduce the pain, Falco says. “Pain control reduces anxiety and depression, improves sleep, and makes for better overall quality of life.”

Falco adds that people with pain and sleep problems should undergo a diagnostic sleep study.

When it comes to medications, tell your doctor about the sleep problems you’re having as a result of your pain. Then follow his or her orders. Painkillers and/or sleeping pills can work for some people, but they should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

And in terms of pain that follows surgery, banking up on sleep a few weeks beforehand may help. “People don’t intuitively think they need to rest up for surgery; but they really should as it can help with pain control,” Marks says. Research has shown that people who get enough rest before surgery require less pain medication afterward.


Once the surgery has taken place, narcotic pain medications can make the first few nights of sleep more restful. “Try to time your last dose around the time you go to bed so it will last through the night,” Marks says.

How to Get the Sleep You Need

Calm yourself with meditation and other relaxation techniques.

When done effectively, as little as 10 minutes of daily meditation can help your mind ignore the pain, Marks says. There are many different types of meditation, including guided meditation, tai chi, and yoga. But you can also improvise. “Use deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or focus on an object or scene,” Marks says.

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