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The Sleep-Pain Connection

Updated: May 10, 2022

Written by: Dr. Stephanie Soto, PT, DPT

Everyone knows that getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep is ideal. But do we know why is it important or what happens if we don’t get enough sleep?

Sleep is what helps form our memories and helps our brain and nervous system learn all the new tasks or information that you tried to learn that day. It keeps you alert and is integral for decision making, paying attention, and creativity.

If you aren’t getting good quality sleep, there are a few things that can be altered.

  1. Our body will secrete less endogenous opioids, our natural pain killers.

  2. We can see an increase in whole body inflammation.

  3. Greater risk of depression.

  4. Greater risk of hypertension.

  5. Greater risk of kidney disease.

  6. Higher blood sugar.

  7. Weakened immune system.

  8. Greater risk of obesity.

  9. Greater risk of stroke.

  10. Altered mood.

Sleep even has an effect on pain. In fact, poor sleep is predictive of an increase in the next day and next month's pain, new headaches, and chronic pain. This means improving our sleep can help prevent or lessen pain!

A 5-year prospective study looking at people with and without pain found that poor sleep was even found to be predictive of 14 missed days from work per year!

I know many of us have crazy work and life schedules where getting 8 hours of sleep every night is unrealistic. This is when the quality of sleep really comes into play. There are many ways we can improve the quality of our sleep!

  1. Try to keep it consistent with when you go to bed and when you wake up, even on the weekends or days off. This helps keep our internal clock in tune and helps us fall into deep sleep quicker.

  2. Avoid naps, especially if you have a hard time falling asleep. If you do need to nap, try to limit it to 30 minutes.

  3. If you are having a hard time falling asleep after 10-15 minutes, don’t force it. Leave the room and sit in the dark or read a book. Do not look at your phone, laptop, TV, or other screens. Screens can alter your internal clock and keep you awake.

  4. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only.

  5. No caffeine after 2pm, avoid alcohol within 3 hours of sleeping, and avoid smoking (especially in the evening). Caffeine stays in our body for 7-8 hours after we ingest it!

  6. Avoid heavy meals before bed.

  7. Minimize light, noise, and excessive temperatures in the bedroom.

  8. Hide your clock if you are always watching it.

  9. Go outside when the sun first comes out for 15 minutes. This helps regulate the melatonin secretion and helps set our internal clock.

  10. Have a relaxing bedtime routine like avoiding screen time 90 minutes before bed and taking a hot shower to help melatonin secrete naturally.

Let’s all try to take our sleep health more seriously. Simply prioritizing our sleep can have so many positive effects on our mood, memory, cognition, and physical health. However, good quality sleep is earned, never given. You may need to spend time working on what habits help promote the best sleep for you. Talk with your Physical Therapist about how your sleep could be impacting you and what steps you can take to improve it!

Sleep well :)

Clifton Park & Troy

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