Fighting Pain? Make Sure You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

One in three American adults don’t get the required seven hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has long been established that sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes, but one recent study found that it can also cause more pain – which is food for thought for the 100 million Americans battling chronic pain and those facing sleep related issues like apnea and insomnia. We know that stress and mental anguish can exacerbate pain as well, which is a clear indicator of the importance of tackling this problem from a multifaceted perspective.

Sleep and Pain

Scientists at the Society of Neuroscience found that just one night of poor sleep boosts brain activity in pain-sensing regions, and reduces activity in the parts of the brain that modulate how we perceive signals for pain. In the study, researchers kept healthy young adults awake in a laboratory setting, measuring their brain activity the next day. They conducted a second online study, asking participants to do the same. Both studies revealed the same findings: pain was greater after a night of missed sleep. The researchers concluded that a sound sleeping strategy should form part of a thorough approach to pain management.

The Usefulness of Sleep

Researchers from the Sleep and Pain Lab showed that specific conditions such as fibromyalgia, back pain, and arthritis, can benefit from a positive attitude to sleep. Their findings showed that the more people believed they would not be able to sleep because of their pain, the more likely they were to actually have insomnia, which in turn worsened their pain. The researchers noted that improving one’s view of sleep while battling pain, is key if progress is to be made. One therapy that can be very effective for people with chronic pain, is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The latter aims at revealing the inexorable link between how we think, feel, and behave. Therapists invite patients to make specific, often small behavioral changes, to show how this can deeply affect the way they view a problem. Rigid, erroneous beliefs about sleep when we are in pain can lead us into behaviors that hamper our ability to sleep. Therefore, when patients are in pain, they need to adopt a good sleep strategy as well.

What does Good Sleep Involve?

Those in pain should understand that quality of sleep is as important as quantity. It is important to sleep through the night, waking up no more than once. As noted by, reaching the restorative phase of ‘deep or restorative sleep’ depends on qualities like the firmness of your mattress. Back sleepers, for instance, need more support than side sleepers; the latter require a memory latex-type foam that provides equal support throughout the body’s pressure points.  Darkness and quiet are also key, as is temperature. Keep your indoor temperature a little cool, which will help you sleep in line with your body’s circadian rhythms.

Stress Relief is Also Key

Stress is an impediment for pain and sleep alike. Good sleep hygiene can be achieved by sticking to a strict bedtime schedule, avoiding screen time in the evening, and refraining from drinking stimulating beverages at night. However, all these will do little to help if stress is keeping us tossing and turning. To keep stress levels down, consider progressive muscle relaxation at night or the use of an app like Calm, which will lead you through various relaxation and breathing exercises. 

If you have a condition that causes chronic pain or you are overcoming a painful injury, make sleep a priority. Recent studies have shown that poor sleep can exacerbate pain, though the relationship between both is cyclical. Invest in a sleep-inducing bedroom and comfortable bed, make time daily for stress relieving meditation or breathing, and stick to the same night time schedule. Your health and happiness depend on it.

Last updated on June 23rd, 2019

Chris Riley

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