Which came first, the sleep deprivation or the pain?
It seems obvious to most of us how pain effects sleep. No one can get a good nights sleep when their back hurts or they are constantly rolling over on a sore shoulder or their mind keeps focusing on an injured knee.
Most often we hear it from clients with low back pain. We get frequent questions on how to get to sleep, the best position for sleep, and how to get out of bed in the morning with a stiff sore back.
What if we reverse the roles and see what effect sleep (or lack of sleep) has on pain itself.
Perhaps, sleep deprivation can be the cause of pain in the first place. A recent study was conducted on individuals experiencing “non-restorative sleep”, meaning they slept too few hours or woke frequently throughout the night. This could be true insomnia or the inability of the body to get into deep sleep states.
What did they find? Sleep deprivation was the strongest predictor of new onset widespread pain. This was especially true in test subjects over the age of 50. These individuals were more likely to experience pain symptoms in multiple joints and muscles.
I believe that learning how poor sleep habits effect our pain can better help us manage and prevent pain symptoms from interfering with our lives.
What exactly is sleep deprivation doing to our bodies?
Sleep serves to maintain homeostasis and optimize function across all systems of our body. Poor sleep will impact virtually every aspect of your health.
The sleep-wake cycle drives the rhythms of activity in our body at a cellular level. When our cells aren’t able to function properly, systems including our muscles and joints start to break down. The consequence over time is pain.
It’s been shown that lack of sleep can lead to serious diseases including heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. What do all of these diseases have in common? Inflammation.
A pro inflammatory state occurs with sleep deprivation that increases the risk of chronic disease. The inflammatory molecules in the body travel to muscles and joints causing pain and swelling. In addition, this aggravates already sore joints affected by previous injury or arthritis.
It is during sleep that our body naturally has the lowest levels of inflammation and the greatest opportunity to heal. Loss of sleep means the muscles and joints miss out on the repairing benefits of sleep.
In addition, growth hormone is produced at the highest levels during sleep. This hormone, considered the “fountain of youth” by celebrities, is what repairs damaged tissues in our body. Without it, stiffness, pain and muscle fatigue result with a cascading effect on a person’s overall activity level.
Contributing to Weight Gain
Many other hormones are effected by lack of sleep. . . melatonin, ghrelin, and leptin primarily. Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone” that causes cravings, excess insulin production, and makes the body store more fat. As this hormone is increased with sleep deprivation, leptin production is decreased. Leptin is the hormone that tells us we are hungry and to stop eating decreases. In this way, a lack of sleep leads to weight gain.
In itself carrying extra weight can increase joint and muscle pain. In addition, excess body fat cells fuel more inflammation. Another negative cycle of pain, loss of sleep, and more weight gain.
Decreasing Pain Threshold
In recent studies, researchers have shown that losing sleep may disrupt the body’s pain signaling system. This heightens a persons sensitivity to pain. One such study on sleep deprived subjects showed a 24% decrease in musculoskeletal pain threshold.
Although the studies have not uncovered exactly why this occurs, they do know that catching up on sleep if you are behind will increase pain tolerance and decrease perception of pain.
I think we can agree that none of us want any of these 5 things in our lives whether we have pain in our body right now or not.
It’s important to recognize the detrimental effect that sleep deprivation can have on your body and your pain. In fact, research says that maintaining good sleep patterns may be one of the most important things you can due to reduce your risk of experiencing pain as you age.
Sleep is a critical piece to any pain management or injury recovery program. If you continue to struggle with pain and sleep, discuss with one of therapists today as to whether a physical therapy treatment plan will be beneficial. Click the link below to set up a FREE call.
When it comes to deep restorative sleep – the kind that allows your body to fully heal and recover – supplements can help your body do this optimally. It’s not just about popping some sleep pills or Benadryl either, as they actually help you fall asleep but keep you from restorative sleep states.
Click the link below to learn about a natural sleep aid that helps you fall asleep, stay asleep, get into deep sleep, and wake up refreshed!
You have to sleep well to be healthy and you have to address your pain to be able to sleep! Make it a priority to take one step toward addressing these areas of your life today.