Chronic pain & trouble sleeping: a sleep routine may be your cure for insomnia

Cartoon in blue shades of a woman lying on her stomach in bed, looking at a clock reading "2:58 with a tired grumpy look with text around her reading "chronic pain and trouble sleeping: a sleep routine may be your cure for insomnia, Cartoon in blue shades of a woman lying on her stomach in bed, looking at a clock reading "2:58 with a tired grumpy look with text around her reading "chronic pain and trouble sleeping: a sleep routine may be your cure for insomnia,
On a white background with a plant, a tablet and two sheets of paper read "sleep goals, current sleep, sleep routine" under text that says "free sleep noteboook printables available,
Want to develop better sleep hygiene habits? For a limited time you can download 3 sleep routine printables for FREE to help you figure out the best strategies to get you snoozing.

A sleep routine (aka “sleep hygiene): if you have chronic pain, anxiety, ADHD and insomnia (or any combo thereof), like I do, this simple process might just be the “cure” for insomnia you’ve been seeking. “Sleep hygiene” is the process of creating an environment that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Here are a few things that might be keeping you up, especially if you have chronic pain or mental health issues, and some strategies you can use to combat them. (Including a pack of free bedtime routine printables!)

The Connection between Chronic Pain and Difficulty Sleeping: What You Need to Know

On a solid teal background Define
Sleep Hygiene (n.)
Healthy behaviors, habits and
environmental factors that help you
develop a daily sleep routine that supports your body's ability to fall and stay asleep

Chronic pain and sleep are deeply interrelated. Chronic pain is linked to sleep disturbances, which can end up worsening pain.

Even completely healthy people have trouble sleeping! Then you have people like us, who may have extra mental health and pain conditions that make it even harder to leave it all behind and nod off.

People with chronic pain may suffer from a self-perpetuating loop of pain, insomnia, and depression or anxiety.  It’s a vicious version of the pain cycle: you don’t sleep, so you feel awful, so you have an even harder time sleeping. Or, you don’t sleep, and then you stress out about not sleeping, which of course then keeps you from sleeping! It can be a really hard thing to break out of. 

Understanding the Interaction Between Chronic Health Conditions and Sleep Problems

Cartoon of a girl with brown hair and yellow dress/shoes holding her back as if it was hurting. Title is "chronic pain sleep cycle" and around the girl, connected with teal arrows, reads: condition or injury causes you pain, trouble falling/staying asleep, delays healing, causing more pain, increased difficulty sleeping, and then back to the start.

Specific conditions can complicate things further. Some pain conditions can be exacerbated by certain sleeping positions or a lack of supportive mattress and pillows. Others have sleep disturbances as part of the package: for instance, chronic arthritis pain appears to interfere with circadian rhythms.1

“So uncomfy” by Chris Alide

Have fibromyalgia like I do? Tests done in sleep labs show that people with fibromyalgia are constantly interrupted by bursts of brain activity similar to what happens in the brain when we’re awake. These keep us out of that sweet sweet deep sleep, so even when we manage to get shuteye, it’s not as healing or helpful as for people without this condition. Many patients with fibromyalgia also have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.2

If you’re having insomnia issues that don’t respond to sleep hygiene tactics, consider talking to your doctor, especially if you have an already-established psych provider. There may be med options appropriate for your condition(s) that have sedating elements to them. Another option is a sleep study, which can diagnose and treat more severe insomnia issues. Ask your pain management or PCP whether one is indicated for you; insurance usually covers it.

Want more ideas for cool stuff to get a loved one with chronic pain (including yourself)? Check out last year’s gift guide for chronic pain!

My #1 Sleep Routine Secret: No. Phones. In. Bed.

GIF of from the princess bride saying "inconceivable," top text reads "typical response to 'no phones in bed'"

I know, I know: if you’re like my friends, many of y’all have trouble wrapping your mind around the concept. No youtube, no social media, no texting, no podcasts. I lie in a quiet, dark room, and read my Kindle until I fall asleep.

If you’re having real insomnia issues, talk to your doctor, especially if you have an already-established psych provider. There may be med options appropriate for your condition(s) that have sedating elements to them.

Even more bizarre (at least according to my ex), I avoid the news within a couple hours of bedtime. I know myself, and I can’t read it without getting wrapped up in it. So I consciously choose not to check the news, and ask the people around me to not expect political discussions at 11 PM.

On a stylized phone screen with clouds and crescent moon behind, text reads CELL PHONES & SLEEP QUALITY Is your phone keeping you up at night? Try these tips to wake up more refreshed every day. Move it. Charge it across the room; keep it out of your bed! Dim it. After dark, dim your screens or use a filter that blocks blue light. Set it. Set an alarm to alert you to start your routine at the same time each day. This helps your body learn to get sleepy at bedtime. Lock it. If you must keep it in bed, use blocking apps to avoid your biggest temptations. Block it. Put it in silent sleep mode at bedtime those notifications wil wait 'til morning. Have a good night's sleep! JANETJAY.COM

Social media has a lot in common with the news. Looking at social media doesn’t relax me, it involves me! It gets me worked up, just in a different way. It makes me think, it makes me get wrapped up in the conversations and my friends’ lives, even if there isn’t any drama. Even if it’s just texts from friends! I still have to mentally rouse myself to figure out how I want to respond. And mentally rousing is the opposite of what I’m trying for.

It’ll wait until tomorrow, I promise

Whether news or social, whatever it is will wait. If you need to set your phone to “do not disturb” or download a program that blocks certain things at certain times, do it! Everybody’s sleep needs are different.

This is not to say that there’s nothing you can do on your phone that would help! There are some cool relaxation games, some people swear by their youtube sleepytime playlist or ambient sounds, and even I allow myself to update my Goodreads when I finish a book. You know yourself best– but try a week without your phone in bed and see how you feel. Then click through to download the free bedtime routine printables that will help you figure out one of your own!

Speaking of routines: any of y’all have migraines? When I feel one coming on, I go through the same checklist of things that might help. Check out my migraine routine and then tell me about yours!


mockup of a table with glasses, pen, succulent, clipboard with "your new sleep routine" sheet, and tablet with "sleep goals"

Sleep hygiene can be a huge boon for people like me with chronic pain, anxiety, ADHD and insomnia (or X, Y, or Z other conditions), and instituting a bedtime routine is one of the most important aspects of that process.

Chronic pain and sleep are deeply interrelated, and insomnia can plop you in the middle of a vicious loop between the two. Experiment with different strategies to create a routine that helps create a headspace and physical environment that promotes relaxation and calm. This’ll maximize your chances of getting a good night’s rest filled with the kind of healing, deep sleep that allows you to wake up with minimal pain. Sweet dreams! And always remember the wisdom of ancient Greece:

Picture of a moon and three zs, "There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep. Homer,"

What else maximizes your chance of getting a good night’s rest? These three printable resource sheets for your medical binder! Together, they’ll help you identify exactly what’s keeping you awake, consider your sleep hygiene options and establish a bedtime routine that works for you. And they’re FREE for a limited time! Just toss your email my way and I’ll send them right over.


One response to “Chronic pain & trouble sleeping: a sleep routine may be your cure for insomnia”

  1. Vernie Jones Avatar
    Vernie Jones

    I’m amazed at the quality and depth of your content. Fantastic job!

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Hopefully this site will help you avoid some of the BS I’ve experienced over the last 20 years seeking treatment for my chronic pain, invisible illnesses & mental health challenges. Maybe it’ll even help you think about disability in a new way! But at the very least, I hope you learn something, and I hope it helps you feel less alone.



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