Which came first, the sleep deprivation or the pain?
It seems obvious how pain effects sleep. Clients with low
back pain frequently come to us with 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.
However, we are now going to reverse the roles and see
what effect sleep (or lack of sleep) has on pain. 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. They found
that this 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
What exactly is sleep deprivation doing to our bodies?
1. Disrupting Homeostasis
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
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.
3. Lack of Recovery
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.
4. 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.
5. Decreased Pain threshold
In recent studies, researchers have shown that losing
sleep may disrupt the body's pain signalling 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.
In Conclusion. . .
It's important to recognize the detrimental effect that
sleep deprivation has on your body and your pain. In
fact, researches say 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.
You have to sleep well to be healthy and you have to
address your pain to be able to sleep! Inquire HERE today.