Does sleep affect pain? 6 tips for better sleep.

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You’ve most likely heard that we need 7-9 hours sleep per night to function properly (kids and teenagers its more like 10-12 hours!). Do we really need to spend that much time asleep? Can’t we get away with less? Well the answer essentially is – no. Especially if you’re experiencing pain…

Why do we need to spend so much time asleep?

Sleep is essential for a variety of physiological process (how our body runs). Here’s a list of things that happen in your body while you lay there supposedly doing nothing…

  • Cellular repair and protein synthesis (cells get renewed)
  • Regulation of hunger hormones (quality sleep reduces appetite the next day)
  • Regulation of the immune system (improves your body’s natural defence against sickness)
  • Maintenance of cardiac health (poor sleep increases risk of cardiovascular events)
  • Memory formation and neural organisation (your brain banks memory, processes complex ideas and forms connections)
  • Regulation of emotions (ever met a 2 year old that hasn’t slept well – adults aren’t that different!)

That’s only some of the things happening whilst you lay there asleep!

How does sleep affect pain?

Poor sleep can increase your pain experience. Whether its an acute recent injury or (and especially) if you’ve experienced persistent pain. Poor sleep acts like a volume knob – turning up the pain intensity.

Studies have been done on the effect of sleep on pain. One study looked at people’s pain thresholds (how much pressure it takes for someone to register the stimulus as pain). They gave some people a full nights sleep and some they deprived sleep less than 6 hours. The deprived sleep group recorded low pain thresholds than when they were given a full nights sleep.

Sleep influences pain. Good sleep reduces the pain experience whilst poor sleep increases the intensity.

What affect does poor sleep have?

It’s not just pain that poor sleep can influence. There’s a variety of other effects of poor sleep. Poor sleep being less than 6-7 hours. Here’s a list of things poor sleep can do (don’t want to scare you… but it might be surprising):

  • Weight gain
  • Cardiac disease
  • Increased injury risk
  • Reduced athetic performance
  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Reduced emotional regulation
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents

And surprisingly there’s not really an exception to the rule. So if you think you’re getting by on less than 7 hours – you might just be unaware of the affect the sleep loss if having.

Tips on improving your sleep

There are some simple ways that you can increase your sleep amount and quality. Here are 6 key tips to improve your sleep quality:

  1. Sleep in a cool (21 degree), dark room
  2. Avoid electronics or blue light in the bedroom
  3. Limit technology use 1 hour before bed time
  4. Reduce caffeine and alcohol after 2pm
  5. Be consistent – wake up the same time everyday (even on weekends)
  6. Get morning sunlight – this helps cue your natural melatonin (sleep hormone) release and circadian rhythm

Hope this helps you sleep better to recover and live well.

 

Tim Cathers

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