the Fault In Our Nerve Endings

Managing Your Chronic Pain

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt,” at least according to Augustus Waters, the protagonist of John Green’s record breaking novel, The Fault In Our Stars. And boy, do the people suffering from chronic pain understand this all too well. For chronic pain sufferers, pain is an absolute. Pills and anti-inflammatories only offer mild relief, while their nerve endings continue to burn and singe with an unyielding force. Even that ancient remedy, the one that solves nearly all problems—emotional and physical—cannot help. I’m of course referring to sleep, and if you’re a chronic pain sufferer, then you can agree that a solid eight hours of sleep is in no way a guarantee.

A successful night is classified as being filled with a solid 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of uninterrupted slumber. Research shows that in the different phases of sleep, our body undergoes muscle repair, memory consolidation, and hormone regulation for growth and appetite. Sleep, however, when constantly interrupted, not only results in our body failing to recoup, but potentially leaves your body worse than it began. Imagine your last sleepless night, recall the way you’d fall asleep only to thirty or forty-five minutes later be woken by a sharp pain running through your spine. Now I want you to think about the next morning. How was your mind? Groggy, lethargic, unable to function at full speed? And what about your body? Sore and Swiss-cheesed with pain? In all likelihood, your sleepless night has given way to an even more painful day than the one you had tried to escape the night before.

While chronic back pain sufferers can attest that a lot of the time anti-inflammatories and over the counter pain relievers can stifle their pain, it typically does not hold the pain at bay forever. So for those sufferers unable to fall asleep, even when aided by pharmaceuticals, here is a list of five tips to help you fall asleep, and stay asleep longer.

Plan Ahead:

Know what time you are aiming to fall asleep. In the hours before, limit your caffeine intake (sorry to say it—but leave your coffee and tea for the morning hours). You should also try to stop watching television in the hour to hour-and-a-half before you head to bed, research has proven that this (along with scrolling through your iPhone) reawakens the neurons needed to send you off to dreamland. And finally, try showering at night. While a warm shower might feel good in the mornings, it actually relaxes your body, which, let’s face it, is good at night but not so good at six o’clock in the morning.

Invest In the Proper Pillow and Mattress:

I know, I know, pillows, and especially mattresses, can really burn a hole in your wallet if you aren’t careful. But with sleep playing such an important factor in our every day lives, don’t you think it’s time to reconsider that five dollar buy from Wal-Mart? Investing in the proper mattress, such as a Tempurpedic or Sleep Number system, will ensure that your spine is getting the alignment that it craves. Similarly, investing in a pillow meant for your sleep style—side sleeper, stomach sleeper, or back sleeper—will help align your neck so that the pressure is taken off of your nerves. Also, keep in mind that pillows and mattresses do go bad. Mattresses should be rotated every three months to ensure proper support, and pillows should be replaced every year.

Go Herbal:

Herbal remedies, such as lavender, have been proven to help aid your body into a relaxation mode. The lavender plant, for example, is often planted in the large cat cages at zoos because of its calming elements. Now, I’m not saying you’re a cat, but investing in 100% pure lavender oil and sprinkling a few drops onto your pillowcase can help ease your nerves into sleep. Additionally, investing in fresh lavender stocks and tying them to your shower head will help the steam release the natural oils of the lavender plant. In a similar sense, chamomile tea has been known to hold calming properties that will help lull your body into relaxation mode. Be careful not to overdue it on the chamomile tea, however, as too many cups a day can result in nausea.

Ginger Tea:

And speaking of tea, did you know that ginger is a natural pain suppressant? Naturally used for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory, ginger can be sliced up and boiled into a tea or grated, wrapped in a cloth, and placed in hot water and applied to the affected area. Of course, if you’re short on time, or just want to make your ginger tea in a pinch, head to your local grocery store and purchase ginger tea bags. The natural properties of ginger will help soothe your aching muscles and help send you off into a restful sleep.

Invest In A Sound Machine:

Not just for babies, sound machines have helped many an insomniac (including my husband) for years. With options such as ocean waves and running rain, sound machines are engineered to promote deeper sleep and relaxation, all in the name in waking with a sense of renewal. By investing in a sound machine, you’re likely to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer as your body falls into a state of relaxation and the pain you’d normally feel dissipates.

Though nothing can guarantee you a perfect night’s sleep—nightmares happen, after all—these tips can help get the job done. Of course, if you or your loved one suffering from chronic back pain still cannot fall asleep, seeking the help of a physician or chronic pain specialist may help. Sleep is important and an invaluable part of life, and pain, while it demands to be felt, does not have to be a nightly sentence to restless sleeping. So slip into your jammies, grab a cup of ginger tea, and if you desire, break into the first chapter of a new book and prepare to slip off into a night of comfortable dreams.