Painsomnia

Painsomnia—it’s not an actual medical term, but anyone in the chronic pain community knows exactly what you’re talking about.

When all you want to do is to get comfortable and get some sleep, but your pain is keeping you wide awake. Ask anyone in the community, and I guarantee they have their own stories about their lack of sleep due to intense pain.

Now, growing up I was a great sleeper—within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, I was out like a light. I remember the first time I ever really experienced a version of painsomnia. I was nine-years-old, a few days before going to soccer camp with my best friend. My sister and I had a race on our scooters that ended badly. I fell off my scooter catching myself with my hands on the cement street right in front of the house. I burst into tears and my parents rushed to my side, checking out the scrapes on my face and my limp wrist. I could still open and close my hand and wiggle my fingers. As it was a Saturday night, the last thing my parents wanted to do was spend the night in the ER. I was sent into the house, took a bath, and went to sleep. I tossed and turned all night as my right wrist ached like nothing I had experienced before. The next morning, we go see a doctor and SURPRISE! It’s a broken wrist. In two places.

As the years went on, I suffered other pain induced sleepless nights: bad knees, stomach problems, horrible growing pains, long dance rehearsals, but nothing could prepare me for a true night of painsomnia. Your body is aching and all you can think about is how comfortable your bed is going to feel. You finally get situated in what you think is going to be a good position and then it hits you: from head to toe you’re buzzing, as if you stuck a metal fork into a socket. Your nerves are screaming at you. You can’t regulate your temperature–covers on, covers off, too hot, too cold. Then you get to a point when even your clothes or the bed sheets start to bring you pain. You try as hard as you can to not cry because you know it will make your head hurt worse.

Slowly, you start adjusting pillows, moving positions, anything to relieve some of the pain. You begin talking to yourself to figure out the best situation:

“Maybe if the pillow goes under my tailbone…”

“How about I sleep on my side, pillow in between my knees…”

“What if I try an ice pack…”

“…maybe a heat pack…”

“What medicines can I take that won’t interfere with my other medications…”

You get to the point where you would do anything for some sort of relief. Time doesn’t move fast enough and all you want is for the night to be over. You finally drift off at around 5:00 in the morning, if you fall asleep at all. A new day begins and you continue with your life, bracing for the moment when painsomnia strikes again.

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