Does sleep affect my pain?

It is rather intuitive for most to accept that sleep is important. Sleep experts certainly recognize the importance of getting a good night's rest, and call sleep the fifth vital sign being grouped in with blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends getting the classic seven to eight hours of sleep per night but also recognizes that some people need a little more or can function on less without adverse health consequences.

Health Clinic, Vancouver

To no surprise, when we are not sleeping well for a prolonged period of time there could be health consequences. Headaches, obesity, diabetes, and mental health conditions are just few that appear to be related to long periods of inadequate sleep or insomnia, which is defined as at least a three week period with reduced sleep quality and duration with associated signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation.

One consequence of poor sleep not often discussed is our reduction in tolerance to noxious input, making us more sensitive to pain.

Evidence suggests that when we initially undergo sleep deprivation, there is habituation, meaning the body adjusts and can tolerate life demands as per usual. However, if sleep problems persist, we become less tolerant and less able to cope with life challenges and may eventually start to feel an ache or pain. This means less rest could make an old injury more sensitive or make a person more pain sensitive.

Sleep influences our general well-being and productivity, while sleep deprivation can increase our sensitivity to aches and pains. The longer we experience sleep loss, we may expect an extended recovery period for sleep patterns to normalize.

Here are some simple tips that could help you get a better night's rest:

  1. Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes.

  2. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine close to bedtime.  

  3. Get regular exercise to promote good quality sleep.  

  4. Limit foods that may cause you indigestion.

  5. Limit screen time (i.e television, cell phone use) immediately prior to sleep.

Sean Overin, Physiotherapist

By Sean Overin, Physiotherapist

Riley Webster