Could better sleep be the key to reducing chronic pain? Researchers from the University of Warwick have found that the way chronic pain patients perceive pain and sleep significantly impacts the occurrence of insomnia and leads to poor pain management.
The research was led by the Sleep and Pain Lab in the Department of Psychology, and their findings were quite intriguing. They found that conditions such as back pain, fibromyalgia and arthritis can be directly linked to negative thoughts about not being able to sleep and experiencing pain. However, this negative impact can be mitigated through cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT for short.
Esther Afolalu and her colleagues developed a scale to measure beliefs about pain and sleep in long-term pain patients, along with their quality of sleep. It is the first scale to combine both pain and sleep in the hopes of examining the relationship between the two.
Four groups of patients participated in the study, and all of them were chronic pain patients who experienced trouble with their sleeping habits. The results showed that patients who believed they would not be able to sleep because of their pain were more likely to experience insomnia, and consequently, experience more pain from lack of rest. You can see where this easily becomes a vicious, self-repeating cycle. More pain begets less sleep, over and over again. The results also show that the scale was very helpful in predicting patients’ pain issues and insomnia frequency.
Senior study author Dr. Nicole Tang explains, “Thoughts can have a direct and/or indirect impact on our emotion, behaviour and even physiology. The way how we think about sleep and its interaction with pain can influence the way how we cope with pain and manage sleeplessness…”
Undergoing CBT for both pain and insomnia can help give patients their lives back without needing to rely on heavy-duty medications. Reducing negative thoughts about pain and inability to sleep gives patients exactly what they need: a good night’s sleep. And better sleep means less pain.