Why is my pain worse at night? Tips for a good night’s sleep.
Pain worse at night
Most people who experience chronic pain report worse symptoms at night. There are many reasons behind this, and researchers are still investigating this phenomenon today. In this post, we’re going to look into what makes your pain worse at night, and what you can do for a better night’s sleep.
There are fewer distractions at night
During the day, our attention is drawn to many things besides our pain. Phone calls, business meetings and errands actually serve as powerful distractions, because when our mind is preoccupied with other things, it doesn’t think about the pain. At night, however, the stimulation and diversions around us drop, leaving plenty of time for the brain to focus on our discomfort.
U.S. Armed Forces members at Anzio Beach noticed this phenomenon during World War II. When severely wounded soldiers were evacuated from the front lines, they didn’t react to pain in typical ways. In fact, many of the soldiers reported experiencing little pain despite their serious injuries. Researchers have since concluded that the relief of being removed from danger was so great that it distracted them from their suffering.
Distraction can be a powerful tool when it comes to pain management. Researchers today have found that virtual reality can be effective in treating pain management.
- Pain Resource Tip: Practice visualization therapy, or visualizing something that you love, like decadent chocolate cake or your ideal vacation. Get lost in the day dream. You can also try listening to relaxing music, focusing on the rhythm and words in the music.
Carbon dioxide levels are high
We all know that you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. However, did you know that your blood vessels expand when your body has higher concentrations of carbon dioxide? The result is that your nerves actually become more sensitive.
Part of your cycle of being awake during the day and sleeping at night, referred to as your circadian rhythm, includes breathing more slowly in the evening, when your body is more relaxed. This causes higher carbon dioxide levels in your bloodstream, which in turn dilates blood vessels, making you feel pain worse at night.
- Pain Resource Tip: Practice controlled deep breathing. When trying to fall asleep at night, focus on your breathing, and take deep breaths to provide your body with more oxygen. This is not only a great way to quiet your mind, it’s a great distraction from pain that might be keeping you awake. If you’re having trouble focusing, try repeating a mantra to yourself, such as I am strong, I am beautiful, I am enough. Repeating a mantra to yourself as you focus on your breath not only has the potential to distract you from pain, but can also transcend into other areas of your life, boosting your confidence and reducing stress.
Stress causes pain
Any time you exert yourself physically, your body can build up lactic acid in muscle tissue, causing soreness. Physical activity also causes increased blood flow around the joints, and if you suffer from conditions such as arthritis, cartilage problems, bursitis or tendonitis, you will likely experience more inflammation and tenderness in those areas. While physical activity is an important part of pain management, it can also place stress on your body. Aching may just be your body’s way of telling you that it really needs some rest.
Emotional stress can cause pain, too. Prolonged stress can cause symptoms such as back pain or stomach aches.
“Emotional stress alerts the body to produce stress chemicals such as cortisol, which—if produced on an ongoing basis—begin to break down the immune, gastrointestinal, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems,” said Nancy Molitor, Ph.D., a psychiatry professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
- Pain Resource Tip: Regular exercise is a great way to fight stress and work through physical pain as well. If it’s been a while since you exercised, set the goal of walking for 10 minutes a day to start. You can always increase in time. Also, be sure to listen to your body when it’s telling you that you need to rest. The more physically active you are, the easier it will be to listen to and understand what your body is trying to tell you.
Temperature changes can affect pain levels
The same peripheral nerves that tell your brain whether you’re hot or cold also transmit pain signals. Nights are cooler than days, and the temperature drop can affect your perception of pain and make pain worse at night.
For example, if your nerves are damaged, your brain might “translate” any change in temperature into feelings of tenderness, tingling, sharp pain or achiness. Low temperatures also make your heart beat more slowly, causing your blood to flow more slowly as well. This results in a slight buildup of carbon dioxide, which can interfere with your nerve endings.
- Pain Resource Tip: To combat cool temperatures at night, consider investing in a heated blanket or pad. Heated pads can also be great treatment for pain, such as back pain, for example. If you have air conditioning, you might also consider turning the temperature up a few degrees before heading to bed.
If you’re experiencing severe pain at night, be sure to talk with your doctor. He or she may be able to recommend relaxation techniques or massage therapy, and, in some cases, might prescribe a medication such as a lower-dose nighttime painkiller or a non-addictive sleep aid to help you get a better night’s sleep.