woman with chronic pain awake in bed wondering how to go to sleep

How to Go to Sleep When Pain is Keeping You Awake – 8 Natural Alternatives That Can Help

By David Pritchard, PhD and Jason Wooden, PhD

Have you ever had a night of tossing and turning due to a throbbing shoulder injury?  Or maybe it’s aching arthritic joints that keep you awake as you desperately wonder how to go to sleep.

Regardless of the cause, insomnia is a huge problem nowadays affecting 1 in 3 adults in the US and up to 30 percent of people worldwide.

There are many reasons people sleep poorly – poor sleep habits, a bad sleep environment, stress, and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

However, one of the most frustrating sleep killers is nagging pain that just won’t go away.

Nighttime pain can make it harder to fall asleep and to stay asleep.  It can also keep you out of the deep restorative REM sleep that’s needed to wake up feeling refreshed.

And if this happens night after night, you become chronically sleep deprived which makes life miserable.  Your brain doesn’t work as well as you fight through a fog of fatigue throughout the day.

But wait, there’s more bad news…

Did you know that insomnia can actually make pain worse?  It can lower your pain threshold and tolerance which results in an awful cycle – pain hurts sleep and sleep makes the pain hurt more.

So, those aches and pain can be really bad for sleep.

You’re not alone.  Currently, 1 in 4 Americans suffer from overnight pain and as many as 80 percent of people with chronic pain have sleep issues.  (Chronic pain is any pain that lasts for longer than 12 weeks).

picture of man with chronic pain in knee
Worldwide many adults suffer from pain and sleep poorly.

While back pain is the most common type, many people suffer from headaches, joint pain from arthritis, and nerve pain from damaged nerves.  Medical conditions like diabetes and cancer can also cause pain.

And unfortunately, stress can make your pain worse.  The body’s stress response can trigger inflammation which results in the release of chemicals which make the nerves more sensitive.

So, how do I go to sleep when pain is keeping me awake?

Okay, now we finally get to the good news…you do have options.

Many of them are “drug free” and have been tested in studies.

picture of prescription painkillers used for pain management

1) Pain Meds

Pain pills are one of the most commonly used remedies.  You’ve probably tried popular over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil).

Prescription painkillers are powerful.  They include opioids such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and Vicodin.

One thing you should keep in mind is that pain meds have serious downsides.  Long-term use has been linked to many other health problems.

Also, opioids are highly addictive and over time you need increasingly higher amounts of the drug to get the same effect.  It’s also becoming harder to get opioids due to recent crackdowns against their over prescription.

Learn more

picture of person receiving injection for pain management

2) Medical procedures

Commonly used procedures include electrical stimulation, nerve blocks by injection, and acupuncture.  Surgery may be performed to correct injuries that healed wrong and contribute to pain.
picture of doctor discussing physical therapy options for pain management with patient

3) Physical therapy

Physical therapy can help with pain in a variety of ways.  It strengthens muscles and increases flexibility which helps keep you from aggravating old injuries and getting new ones.  It also increases blood flow to target areas and re-educates the nervous system to make it less sensitive to pain signals.

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picture of person getting back massage for pain management

4) Massage

Massage therapy helps relieve pain through relaxing painful muscles and joints, reducing stress and anxiety, and overriding pain signals.

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picture of man receiving counseling for pain management

5) Psychotherapy

Pain has biological, psychological, and emotional factors.  Psychotherapy can change the way people cope with their pain and change the stress response in the brain responsible for the release of chemicals that make pain worse.

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picture of violin

6) Music therapy

Studies have shown that music can promote relaxation and help relieve pain.  It alleviates anxiety and stress which can contribute to pain.

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picture of person swimming in pool for pain management

7) Exercise

Surprisingly, studies have found exercise can help people manage their pain.  Gentle activities such as walking or swimming can help improve your pain threshold.

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picture of man practicing Tai chi for pain management

8) Tai chi

Studies have shown Tai chi can help people manage pain.  It uses breath control, meditation, and gentle movements to stretch and strengthen muscles.  It can also relax the body and reduce stress.

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picture of lady doing yoga for pain management

9) Yoga

Similar to Tai chi, yoga uses breathing, meditation, and stretching.  Besides strengthening muscles, it can calm the body and mind which reduces stress that gives rise to pain.

Learn more

picture of lady meditating by the window for pain management

10) Meditation

Meditation can also calm the mind and the body.  It helps reduce the stress response in the body responsible for the release of hormones that cause inflammation and pain.

Learn more:
How you can ease your pain with mediation (Cleveland Clinic)
Creating a space for mediation (TheBrecklife.com)

And there you have it, ten options to deal with chronic pain including eight drug free natural alternatives.

Since everyone’s situation is unique, be sure to talk with your doctor about what might work best for you as complement or alternative to any pain meds you’re currently using.

Summary: How to Go to Sleep if Pain is Keeping You Awake

1) Many people suffer from pain and have sleep issues
2) Insomnia can make pain worse
3) There are many drug-free options that can help
4) Talk to a doctor or specialist to figure out which might work best for you
5) Don’t forget to practice good sleep hygiene so that other issues aren’t sabotaging your sleep

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