Dr. Anna Charbonneau

Therapy for people living with stress, depression, and medical conditions

Trouble sleeping? What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

by Dr. Anna Charbonneau | Tags: sleep, physical health

Trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. The vast majority of people with health conditions report poor sleep. In chronic pain conditions, well over 75% of people complain of poor sleep.

People often blame all of their sleep problems on their other problems, “Well, of course I don’t sleep well, I’m in [in pain, anxious, depressed, you name it]!

But is that really true? Do emotional and physical problems cause poor sleep? Or can poor sleep worsen those problems? This week, I invite you to challenge your own assumptions about why you're not sleeping well and take a closer look at sleep.

Imagination exercise

Imagine you're an average guy with really bad knee pain. Imagine you're overweight. Imagine you feel down and exhausted. Imagine you don't move much (understandably, because it hurts to walk). You're sleeping enough hours, but waking up groggy and exhausting. You never feel very well rested, despite sleep. Now imagine you see a doc who recommends a sleep study.

The overwhelming response when I see someone like this and recommend a sleep study is: “I don’t need all that, thank you.”

Really? Let’s think about that.

Poor sleep: The Chicken or The Egg?

While it may seem like pain, anxiety, or depression is the cause of your poor sleep, in many cases, poor sleep can also cause worsen those problems. In the next week, I’ll cover the two biggest sleep problems, sleep apnea and insomnia. I'll be talking about some easy steps you can take to improve your chances of getting good quality sleep.

Today I want to focus on getting the basics down.

What Should Happen in Good Sleep

To understand what we’re working towards, let’s all get on the same page about what good sleep should look like.

  1. Get sleepy at a reasonable time.

  2. Go to bed, fall asleep within 15-40 minutes.

  3. During sleep, your brain should cycle normally through the stages of sleep.

  4. You should have minimal snoring and breathe fairly normally throughout all stages of sleep.

  5. You should wake up feeling rested (not exhausted).

How Sleep Can Go Wrong

There are a few ways in which sleep can go wrong, resulting in what can easily feel like an ongoing nightmare. Take a look at the list above. Is there any particular item on this list that isn't happening for you?

Imagine a child who gets no rest, doesn't fall asleep, or is constantly woken up. Do you think that child is going to have an easy time thinking clearly or making good decisions? Seriously, imagine it. Without good sleep, children get out of control, flushed, disoriented, and everything is out of whack. They cry easily and are more likely to throw temper tantrums.

Why should adults be any different? Sleep is a time our bodies use for healing, clearing out old junk, and regulating our systems. Without good sleep, everything is going to be out of whack. You'll be cranky, tired, exhausted. You'll have a much harder time doing the things you know you should do to feel better. And your pain will be worse.

What's next?

In upcoming posts, we’ll go over the basics of sleep apnea and insomnia, two of the most common problems with chronic pain.

Click here to read more articles on sleep.