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 a 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 little known consequence of poor sleep is a 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:

The Top 3:

  1. Wake up and go to bed at the same time most days of the week.

  2. Limit screen time (i.e television, cell phone use) 1-2 hours prior to sleep.

  3. Get regular moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Other Considerations:

  1. Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes.

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

  3. Limit foods that may cause you indigestion close to bedtime.

  4. Keep room temperature cooler in the evening

  5. Have a hot shower or bath before bed

When working on getting a good night's rest, think of things that wind down the mind and body in the evening which may include reading, meditation, hot shower, etc. We are always keen and eager to see changes quickly, but don’t expect things to change overnight. However, persistence and consistency like many things in life will move you in the right direction.

Sean Overin, Physiotherapist

By Sean Overin, Physiotherapist

Riley Webster