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Therapy Helps Chronic Back Pain Patients Sleep Easier

Chronic pain can have a negative impact on just about every aspect of your life. It can even damage the quality of your sleep. It's not uncommon for people with chronic back or neck pain to have sleep disorders, but new research shows that these patients can find relief—and without the use of medications. Researchers believe that behavioral therapy helps patients get a quality night's sleep. Plus, the treatment might reduce pain during the day, too.

The findings were published online by Sleep Medicine on February 4, 2010. The research team studied 28 men and women with chronic neck and back pain. Over the course of 8 weeks, a nurse therapist delivered cognitive behavioral therapy. Session topics included stimulus control (not using the computer right before bed, for instance) and the dangers of insomnia.

"This study really shows that this therapy can be delivered successfully and very effectively by advance practice nurses," said Carla R. Jungquist, FNP, PhD, the lead author of the study. "Training nurses in the delivery of this type of therapy will result in better access for patients. Currently, access to this therapy is limited as there are few trained therapists and most are psychologists."

The research team noted that many chronic pain patients practice unhealthy sleep behaviors as a way to escape their pain. Some patients try to sleep even if they aren't tired. Or they might not always sleep in the bedroom. Alternatively, they might watch television or use their computers in the bedroom. In other words, they don't sleep when, where, and how they should.

The patients in this study kept sleep diaries, and their pain and mood levels throughout the day were also recorded. The researchers found that the behavioral therapy was as effective as other insomnia and chronic pain treatments. And in some cases, the therapy actually performed better.

The researchers point out that many patients with sleep disorders are weary of taking numerous medications to treat the disorder. Behavioral therapy, however, may effectively treat sleep problems—without the use of any medications.

Updated on: 11/15/10
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