Have you ever noticed how much more energetic and stronger you feel after a good night’s sleep? Even if you don’t feel all that great the night before, getting a good night’s rest seems to turn things around the next day. Your tolerance for pain improves too. If you’ve ever suffered chronic pain, you may have realized how much worse it is when you don’t get enough sleep. Well, there’s scientific evidence that backs this. Not prioritizing sleep and trying to scrape by on as little as possible can set you up for aches and pains and make you susceptible to illness. Not to mention, lack of sleep, in the long run, can also lead to weight gain, spike blood pressure and put you at risk of heart disease.
Sleep deprivation and pain fuel each other. For instance, let’s say you have chronic back pain or arthritis. The discomfort makes it difficult to sleep. Not being able to sleep in turn makes the pain worse. The cycle can be frustrating as you need good sleep to feel better but seemingly can’t get it because the pain keeps you up.
A study by the University of California Berkeley found that lack of sleep enhances response to pain in the brain’s primary sensing regions and reduces activity in other regions that regulate the processing of pain. 25 healthy participants were chosen for the study. Heat tolerance was used to measure their pain threshold. The test was repeated after a night of poor sleep. The results showed that most of the participants had a lower pain threshold. According to lead researcher, Adam Krause, poor sleep following a painful experience could lead to chronic persistent pain.
This isn’t the only research that examined the link between sleep deprivation and pain. In another study done by Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), it was found that lack of sleep exacerbates pain sensitivity over time. The study was conducted on mice who were kept awake for varying hours over the course of 5 days. They were tested for pain sensitivity using controlled levels of heat, cold and pressure. It was revealed that they had increased sensitivity to pain and that common painkillers didn’t have an effect. Rather, caffeine and modafinil – both of which promote wakefulness – were found to work better.
Sleeplessness doesn’t just exacerbate pain; it can also open you to infections. When you sleep, your body releases proteins called cytokines, which increase in response to an infection. When you don’t get enough sleep, cytokine production drops. Antibodies that are supposed to fight infection also decrease. Some illnesses such as the common cold are accompanied by body pain and headaches. The discomfort can prevent you from sleeping well and make you feel worse the next day.
What do you do, then, when you’re in pain and just can’t sleep? There’s no cure-all but there are things you can do to sleep better.
Unless you’re explicitly advised to stay in bed, perform exercises that are low to moderate in intensity. Prolonged bed rest can lead to poor muscle strength, poorer aerobic fitness, and shallower breathing. Our bodies are designed to move so if possible, try to exercise in the day. Do so no later than 3 hours before bedtime so that your body has time to cool down for sleep. Some examples of low to moderate exercises include walking, cycling, tai chi, yoga, swimming, and jogging. Do consult a doctor before beginning any exercise program.
Relaxation techniques are geared towards calming you down and helping you fall asleep. Those such as guided imagery can help relieve pain. It uses the power of thought and visualization to control pain. It’s not a certainty that it will work but it will take your mind off your discomfort so you can sleep better.
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A mattress that’s designed to provide excellent support and comfort can alleviate pain. Medium-firm mattresses are particularly useful. In fact, a study by Oklahoma State University discovered that new, medium-firm beds improved sleep quality and reduced back pain.
Nuvanna is a medium-firm mattress that perfectly combines support with comfort. It’s designed by a material scientist with over 20 years of experience. The top layer uses phase-changing gel particles that absorb body heat and disperse it to keep you cool. The middle layer isolates motion and lets you and your partner move freely without disturbing each other. The bottom layer supports the length of your body, including the spine, to prevent you from sinking in and throwing your spine out of alignment. It’s one of the best mattresses for back pain available today.
Sleep deprivation can do a lot of damage in the short-term and long-term. While it’s easier said than done, it’s important to focus on improving the quality of sleep so that you can withstand discomfort better and alleviate existing pain. Sticking to a sleep schedule, avoiding stimulants like alcohol and caffeine, and learning to relax enough to encourage sleep are some of the other things you can do.