How We Think About Sleep Affects Chronic Pain Symptoms

New research out of the University of Warwick Department of Psychology Sleep and Pain Lab has found that negative thoughts about pain and insomnia affect conditions like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and back pain.  Cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, can be used to manage and treat this issue.

One of the primary authors of the study, Esther Afalalu, and her colleagues developed a scale that measures how chronic long-term pain patients think and feel about pain and sleep, as well as the measurement of their quality of sleep.  This study is the first of its kind to look at both sleep and pain in order to explore how the cycle of pain continues more rapidly in sleep-deprived persons.

There were four groups a part of this study, of which all participants were suffering from some form of chronic pain condition and poor sleep.  The scale used to test these patients found that those who believed they would get poor sleep as a result of pain ended up sleeping more poorly and suffering from worsened pain.  The results indicate that the scale was vital in determining the patient’s level of pain difficulty and their level of insomnia.  Furthermore, the more quality sleep they received, the more relieved their pain was.  This change and reduction in pain was even more prevalent in those who underwent CBT for both insomnia and pain.

This study gives therapists and providers the necessary means to identify, treat, and monitor thoughts about pain and sleep that may be interfering with sleep quality.  This allows for the application of effective CBT treatments for chronic pain patients who suffer from insomnia.

Dr. Afalalu reported in the press release of this study that current treatments for chronic pain are focused mostly on managing symptoms with medications, without much emphasis on sleep patterns.  However, developing therapies and new research indicates that tackling both sleep problems and pain simultaneously is the best option for treatment in these patients.  The scale is a good clinical tool that can be used to accurately and effectively monitor treatment during therapy.

Another one of the study’s authors, Dr. Nicole Tang, PhD, reported that our thoughts can have a major impact on our behaviors, emotions, and physiology, both directly and indirectly.  How we think about the link between sleep and pain influences how we cope with the pain and manage the insomnia.  While some of these thoughts are likely healthy and well-intended, based on prior clinical practices, more rigid thoughts are misinformed and detrimental to sleep and pain management.

This new Pain-Related Beliefs and Attitudes about Sleep (PBAS) scale was created in order to help clinicians identify the beliefs that are potentially harmful to the patient, causing them increased insomnia and pain symptoms.  These research findings and information about the scale were published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

 Reference:  http://www.aasmnet.org/jcsm/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=30784

Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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