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The benefits of sleep – the link between sleep and pain: Part II

woman sleeping on sofa

Are sleep and pain linked?

So what are the associations between sleep and pain? And will a bad nights sleep increase the risk of you experiencing a bad back the day after?  Well early evidence has always suggested a reciprocal relation between sleep volume and pain experience. It also appears that poor sleep is predictive of future pain. Insomnia like symptoms will increase the chance of headaches for example. The risk of developing multiple areas of pain within our bodies (linked to fibromyalgia) goes up if we regularly have disturbed sleep. However it is more closely linked to sleep disorders rather than a poor night here and there.  Combining poor sleep with low mood or depression will increase the risk of pain the subsequent day.

Does pain influence sleep?

In general it appears that there is a far greater link on how sleep affects pain, than the other way round. Although acute and high levels of pain can obviously affect sleep, the evidence points to a more uni-direction effect (of sleep on pain). This has important ramifications when treating persistent pain. It demonstrates that lifestyle factors have a crucial role to play.

Why does this happen?

There is growing evidence that insufficient sleep has a ‘hyperalgesic’ effect on the body. Healthy people with no pain will report bodily pain after just 2 consecutive nights of 4 hours sleep. If sleep is regularly interrupted it alters our ability for ‘conditioned pain modulation’.  Our own internal ‘opioid-mediated’ pain control system – is dramatically reduced. In others words – we become less effective at reducing our sensitivity to pain.

Clinical samples

It appears sleep also affects conditions such as rheumatiod arthritis and gastroesophageal reflux symptoms. Both psychosocial symptoms and disease-specific markers, of these clinical samples groups, increase with poor sleep.

A good nights kip

The good news is anyone can start to reduce these negative effects by getting some decent shut-eye.  Having a positive outlook is also key. Trying to take control with self-management strategies can markedly help to reduce pain. Look out for any follow up articles on sleep – which will try to look into ways that you can help yourself.


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