How Important Is Sleep?
People underestimate the power of sleeping. So many of us work long hours and afterwards, we leave work to take care of things at home. I encounter many people who say they can get by on 5 hours of sleep. However, what is the real impact? How does it affect pain levels and healing from injury?
Good sleep is one of the most important aspects of living. This becomes especially true for those who are in pain. Chronic pain is a growing problem in our country. Nearly 1 in 3 people are suffering from chronic pain. Chronic pain is any type of pain that has lasted more than 3 months. Chronic pain and sleeping tend to go hand and hand.
Pain can cause difficulty sleeping at night. Even if you do sleep, pain may result in restless sleep which can leave you tired the next day. Sleep and pain have a shared relationship that impacts each other. Pain that you have during the day can make sleeping difficult at night.
On the other hand, poor sleep can cause an increase pain during the day. Not sleeping enough can make the body more sensitive and pain levels will increase as a result. Interestingly, the latest studies have found that sleeping effects pain levels more than pain levels effect sleeping.
For this reason, it is important to look at sleeping habits when addressing pain and healthy living. It is vital to do things to help you sleep better at night to win the battle against chronic pain. Pain effects sleep. There is no argument for that. But there are several other factors that can impair sleep. If these factors are addressed, it will drastically change the way you feel.
Before we address these factors, it is important to know what is going on during sleep and why it is so imperative to your mind and body. Sleep is the time when our bodies rejuvenate.
Physiologically, there are several things happening once we get into deeper sleep stages. Blood pressure will become lower and your breathing will slow down. Muscles become relaxed and blood supply to muscles increases. Increase blood flow to muscles allows for growth and repair to occur.
Hormone regulation and release occur while you sleep as well. For example, there is a hormone known as growth hormone, which is essential for development; especially of the muscles. This hormone is regulated and secreted when a person is sleeping. Also, cortisol levels that dip late in the day are restored while sleeping. This will help you to feel more alert in the morning.
Sleep helps balance our appetites by regulating levels of ghrelin and leptin that play roles of feelings of hunger and fullness.
These essential physiological factors will not occur unless we get good sleep. Not only that, lack of rest can cause increase in pain sensitivity. If the body does not enter the proper sleeping cycles (especially REM cycles), sensitivity increases. Ironically, most opioids that are used to treat pain will suppress REM sleep and could lead to increase in pain sensitivity.
There is a clear correlation between pain levels and sleeping. It is a vicious cycle that can lead to prolonging a painful condition. Whether your sleeping is disrupted by pain or your lack of sleep causes pain to be worse. The question is, what can you do to help?
Pain needs to be treated on many different levels. Physical therapy can help with proper movement and exercise and consistent physical activity is important to help with strength and flexibility. A proper diet is also necessary to decrease inflammation in the body. It is also important to improve your habits to reduce pain and increase healing. For this article, I will be addressing sleep only, but understand that pain needs to be treated with all these areas combined.
Sleep Habits and Hygiene
A consistent routine will help you to sleep better and feel less tired. Waking up at the same time each day and going to bed at roughly the same time each night will better train your body and mind to know when to sleep and when to be alert. Make sure you are spending the last 30-60 minutes before bed doing something relaxing. This could be something like reading a book or taking a hot shower.
On average adults should be getting 7-8 hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle. If we nap during the day, this will take away from how much sleep we need the next night which could lead to a broken cycle.
Caffeine, Sugar and High fat foods
Avoid consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before going to bed. Stop eating sugars and high fat foods at least 4 hours before bed. Eating a piece of fruit in the evening is okay, but other sweets and desserts could affect your sleeping pattern.
Turn Off Screens
A lot of people have TVs in their bedrooms and watch while laying in bed. If it’s not TV, it’s laptops and tablets. Many use these right up until bedtime. These types of lights and glares can disrupt your ability to fall asleep. As a good rule, turn off all screens one hour before you are planning to go to bed.
Relax and Destress
Stress plays a big role in sleep. When we are high stressed, it is more difficult to fall asleep. Try spending 15-20 minutes before bed clearing your mind. Release thoughts that can trigger stress, such as work, tasks that need to be completed the next day, etc., so your body can prepare for sleeping. Do some meditation or just relax in silence with some light music or a book. Avoid working late and reading work-related emails before bed. Try to get out of work mode so you can rest better.
Consistent exercise is important for all kinds of health reasons. But, exercises will also help you sleep better. Just be sure not to exercise to close to bedtime. Elevated heart rate, increase in endorphins and increase body temperatures associated with exercise will make sleeping more difficult.
Sleeping is a vital part of our lives. We should be spending nearly one third of our lives sleeping so our bodies and minds can heal and recover. Without good sleep your body can’t go through the stages of recovery and rejuvenation it needs to be ready for the next day. If you are having pain that does not seem to be changing, you may want to look at your habits. This could be the key component to your pain relief.