Sleep Apnea and Pain: Coincidence or Not?



A common old proverb – most commonly attributed to athletic pursuits and doing things that are hard to do – proclaims that pain is temporary and glory is forever. But what if pain is forever and glory is that day you had five years ago when you woke up, and for a single fleeting moment, didn’t feel any chronic pain. Right now, over 100 million Americans suffer from persistent pain and billions of dollars are being spent to treat it. If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, chronic pain and the sleep disorder may be in cahoots to make your life a living hell.

What is the relationship between sleep apnea and chronic pain? First, it is important to know that there is no direct link between obstructive sleep apnea and pain and there is no proof that one causes the other. However, there is quantifiable and scientific proof that there are many differing causal links between the two. In so many words, if you have chronic pain, there is a strong chance that you also have sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea, there is a high probability that you are also suffering from some kind of chronic pain.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 15% of people that experience sleep disorders – including sleep apnea – also have chronic pain. One study showed that women diagnosed with sleep apnea are ten times more likely to suffer from a condition known as fibromyalgia, which causes chronic pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, and soft tissues – men are also more likely to suffer. There is also a study that shows a link between chronic cluster headaches and obstructive sleep apnea – researchers recommend that if you are diagnosed with these headaches, you should also get tested for sleep apnea.

The worst part about the relationship between sleep apnea and chronic pain is that it can put you in a situation that is analogous to getting trapped in quicksand. Sleep apnea can make the pain worse and the pain can worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea. Christopher J. Lettieri – a doctor and program director at the Sleep Medicine department of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – remarked, “Pain fragments sleep continuity, impairs sleep quality, and disrupts normal sleep architecture. Reciprocally, poor quality or insufficient quality of sleep may decrease the pain threshold…” Looking on the bright side, though, one particular study showed definitive proof that regular CPAP treatment can increase that threshold.

Another link between obstructive sleep apnea and chronic pain has to do with the methods used to alleviate the pain and discomfort. As pain becomes more prevalent in society, so do heavy drugs that are intended to “kill” the pain. While many of these drugs work wonders, they can also be habit and addiction forming. Perhaps what is most surprising is a study showing that opioid-based pain medications, like morphine, may actually cause obstructive sleep apnea.  Basically, these drugs can affect the part of the brain that is responsible for respiration.

So, what does this mean for chronic pain sufferers? You have two options:

1. Not sure if you have sleep apnea – get tested! – If you snore, wake up tired, have morning headaches or wake up breathless during the night and experience chronic pain it is likely you have sleep apnea – it’s time to get tested for sleep apnea. Sleepless nights can exacerbate pain and decrease your quality of life. It is quicker, cheaper and easier than ever to get tested for sleep apnea.  With the Easy Home Sleep Test Package you can get tested in the comfort of your own home.

2. If you have sleep apnea and chronic pain – use a TENS device. – One of the best ways to alleviate your chronic pain is to invest in a TENS device, like the SENSUS Pain Management System. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – when you are feeling pain, you simply press a button and a little electrical pulse is sent to the nerve center to alleviate the discomfort. The best part about a TENS device, like the SENSUS, is that it is non-invasive and non-addictive. Moreover, it delivers relief instantaneously. At the end of the day, no one deserves to live with chronic pain, so you owe it to yourself to find relief – glory should never be fleeting.