It’s four in the morning and you’re still awake. You’ve been in bed, and you should have been asleep ages ago. Your alarm will go off in only a few hours, and you’re dreading the long day ahead that you’ll have to spend completely exhausted.
If you suffer from peripheral neuropathy, this scenario is probably all too familiar. Insomnia (lack of sleep) affects almost half of the overall population, but among neuropathy sufferers, that ratio jumps to over seventy percent. Experts recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep for most adults, regardless of their age or gender, an intimidating goal if you’re someone whose chronic pain keeps them up at night.
Neuropathic pain can intensify in the evening hours, both in reality and in perception (fewer distractions of the day can cause a sufferer to focus more on their pain the closer they get to bedtime).
Research suggests that sleep apnea, a common cause of insomnia, can actually cause peripheral neuropathy, as well. Beyond a mere relationship, studies have shown that apnea is a high-risk condition among the insulin-resistant, which could likely be affecting incidents of neuropathy among diabetics in very direct ways.
Insomnia from neuropathy can perpetuate its own problem, too. Not only is neuropathic pain prodigious when it comes to nighttime restlessness, but the resulting lack of sleep can make the pain even worse! Rest is essential to recovery and treatment, and lack of sleep can lower your pain threshold drastically. You need that sleep, so what can you do?
There are several steps you can take if your neuropathy is keeping you awake at night. Your NeuropathyDR® clinician can work with you to best help your specific situation, but here are some guidelines to get you started:
- Do your best to keep a regular sleeping schedule. Be persistent! Getting to bed and getting up at the same times each day is one of the best ways to train your body to sleep correctly.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and any medication that incorporates a stimulant (non-drowsy), especially in the evening hours.
- Avoid heavy foods in the evening. Our bodies metabolize food for hours after we eat, giving us a boost of energy! Energy is great when we need it, but can be a pain when we don’t. Many cultures eat their biggest meal of the day in the morning and only a small snack at dinnertime for this reason. Try it out!
- Try turning off the TV and computer a few hours before bed. Mileage varies from person to person, but electronics tend to stimulate the senses. Try a book or quiet conversation, instead.
- Adjust your environment to be ideal for sleeping. Layer your covers to ensure you stay warm but not hot, and minimize light and noise.
There are a number of herbal and natural sleep aids as well, which may help you fall asleep quickly. Sleep expert Elizabeth Shannon recommends entertaining a number of stress-relief methods, psychological conditioning, and homeopathic solutions for insomnia before resorting to pharmaceutical sleep aids, which can often form dependencies and, over time, exacerbate the problems associated with restlessness. Always be cautious with medications, and consult your NeuropathyDR® clinician or other doctor before medicating.
Always remember, altering your sleep pattern won’t happen overnight (so to speak)! It could be three to four weeks before any changes you make to your routine begin to have meaningful impact on your success getting to and staying asleep, and don’t be surprised if your restlessness gets worse before it gets better. Contact us, and we can help you find a NeuropathyDR® clinician in your area and give you even more information about how to get the rest you need while suffering from neuropathy.