For pain patients, sleep is precious. Sleep is a respite from a tough day and allows pain patients to tolerate discomfort. Lack of sleep not only isn’t restorative enough, it also inhibits our abilities to handle pain.
Unfortunately, many pain patients also suffer from insomnia.
What to do?
The traditional answer has always been to literally “count sheep”. This has meant envisioning sheep going by and counting them. The practice probably is a relic from an old shepherding tradition of having to count the herds before bedtime.
But not every old practice works, and apparently, counting sheep actually extends wakefulness.
So, what can help you get to sleep?
- A cool room, but not too cold.
- Comfortable bedding and pillows.
- The optimal amount of noise (white noise if you need it; silence if that is better)
- Comfortable proximity to your significant other. Many people like to sleep while in physical contact with their partner. Others like their partner nearby but not touching.
- All screens off (and no screen time for several minutes before bedtime.)
- Comfortable breathable nightwear (or none at all, if it’s more comfortable).
If these conditions still don’t bring on sleep, instead of counting sheep, which apparently is actually too boring, consider these exercises:
- Reading a fairly mundane book–no thrillers, mysteries or bodice-ripping romances. I’m reminded of my friend who was a camp counselor and would read to his campers from his college macroeconomics textbook every night.
- Don’t rehash the day or make lists of what you need to do (although these are great things to do as you’re preparing for bed, just not as you’re getting into bed.)
- Visualize relaxing settings that you like (a peaceful coastline, a mountain view, a snowy walk, a path in the woods).
- Breathe naturally but slowly and deliberately.
- You can play some mind games, particularly if they are a little boring. Alphabet games are great because you typically won’t make it to “z”. Think of a place that begins with each letter or a celebrity (first or last name).
- Spiritual or prayerful thoughts. If you’ve memorized a few psalms or Bible verses, say them to yourself silently. Think of every person you know and say a silent wish for them.
If you consistently cannot fall asleep (or stay asleep), discuss this with your health care team. You may need to be evaluated by a sleep specialist to rule out sleep apnea and evaluate if you would benefit from a mild nighttime sedative.