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My Story: Why Sleeping Tips Aren't Always The Answer For Chronic Pain Management

My Story Series by Bethany Widdicombe

Artwork by Ciara Chapman

When my chronic pain issues were at their peak, I was barely sleeping an hour at night. Any position I curled or stretched into seemed to only make things worse. I would toss and turn, and whimper in pain throughout the night. At the time, I felt helpless to it and didn’t feel like anyone could help. As a result, more than too often, I was rolling into work late with bloodshot eyes and weak bones.

The staff took notice and asked if I was getting help. When I shook my head back and forth, I recognized that the people around me saw me hurting. That perhaps there were options for someone like me.

Researching online for conventional sleeping tips did little to help my chronic pain management. It took finding a physical therapist to provide better ways for managing chronic pain. It also helped me develop my own ways for sleeping through the night.

Why Conventional Sleeping Tips Aren’t For Everyone

Most sleeping tips out there are curated for people who do not experience chronic pain on a daily basis. While meditation and staying away from screens before going to sleep can help some, the answer to good sleep simply is not straightforward for someone experiencing chronic pain.

I could have settled for intense pain killers to help sleep, but I wanted a more holistic approach to sleeping well. I did not want to mask the issue at hand, I wanted to solve the root of the problem. At the time when I could only manage an hour of sleep, I was working, going to school, and experiencing heartache from a recent breakup. All those emotions and stressors were severely affecting my chronic pain levels, and consequently, my ability to sleep.

To Think Differently About Pain and Sleep

On one particular afternoon, I sat in my physical therapist’s office as he asked me a few questions. What he did next profoundly affected my ability to manage pain and focus my mind. He held my arm in his hand and asked me to think of a place I felt the safest. Where I felt looked after, calm, and loved.

My mind was drawn to a place my family went for Thanksgiving for a couple of years. It was not anything fancy, but it was the only place I felt completely calm. My memories there were long before I was diagnosed with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) and holding my thoughts there brought me to a place of peace.

My muscles instantly relaxed and the intensity of my pain lessened. There weren’t apps like Flowly at the time who could guide you to better sleep through methods that track and uplift positive thought.

What conventional sleeping tips miss is that we can find the perfect pillow, the ideal sleeping position, the calmest music, but until we find what aggravates our own chronic pain, mentally and physically, we won’t be able to find the root of how to sleep through the night.


Featured artwork by Ciara Chapman

Ciara is an illustrator based in Cork, Ireland with a background in Fine Art Printmaking and Graphic Design. Ciara is currently putting 100 of the illustrated diary entries together in a book that will be available next year. The featured image is part of the project titled ’My Chronic Pain Diary’. Ciara chronicles the journey through chronic pain through this illustrated diary entries.

If you are interested in seeing more, check out the website :



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