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Alaska Sleep Education Center

Sleep and Pain: How Pain Contributes to Sleep Loss

Posted by Jennifer Hines

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on May 17, 2019, 4:20:00 PM

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Do you find yourself having difficulty going to sleep because of chronic back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or any other painful afflictions? Does the pain regularly wake you in the middle of the night, leaving you to stare at the ceiling, unable to return to sleep because of the constant aches in your body?

Roughly 100 million Americans suffer varying degrees of chronic pain, which is estimated to cost $600 billion a year in medical treatments and lost productivity at work (1). However, there is another cost of chronic pain that often goes unmentioned– the hours of lost sleep that are directly resulted from experiencing continuous pain.

New Findings Show Link Between Pain and Sleep Loss

A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found pain to be a major factor in sleep loss. According to the "2015 Sleep in America Poll," people that suffer from chronic pain have a sleep debt of 42 more minutes of sleep each night from their pains, and people suffering from acute pain have a sleep debt of 14 minutes a night.

Here are some more surprising results of the study:
  • 21% of Americans experience chronic pain and 36% have experienced acute pain in the last week. Totaling 57% experiencing pain compared to 43% who were pain free at the time of the study.

  • 65% of people with no pain reported having good or very good sleep quality.

  • 46% of people with acute pain reported good sleep quality

  • 36% of people with chronic pain reported good sleep quality.

  • 23% of those with chronic pain reported higher stress levels compared to 7% of those without pain.

  • 40% of those with chronic pain reported an effect on their productivity at work compared to 17% of those without pain.

  • 23% of those with chronic pain have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder compared to just 6% of those with acute pain or no pain.

Sleep and pain: how does pain affect sleep?

elderinpainThe problem with pain and sleep loss is that the two help to contribute to each other. Experiencing chronic pain can lead to sleep deprivation, but sleep deprivation can also make pain symptoms worse. It becomes a "chicken and egg" situation in which it may be difficult to determine which is causing the other. This can make getting to the root of the problem very difficult.

Pain can make it difficult to go to sleep at night, cause frequent awakenings from sleep during the night, or make a person wake earlier than planned without being able to return to sleep. In this regard, pain has both an effect on the quantity of sleep as well as the quality.

People experiencing pain are also much more sensitive to stress, which is another major perpetrator in sleep loss.

People in pain are also more likely to worry about getting enough sleep and feel like they have less control over the amount and quality of the sleep they get each night.

Those experiencing pain are more likely than those without pain to point to other factors that contribute to sleep loss such as noise, temperature, light, and mattress comfort.

What those in pain can do to promote better sleep

Quality sleep is often an indicator of one's overall health and quality of life. Therefore it is important for those with, and even without, pain to make sleep a priority.

Some of the things that nearly everybody should attempt is to practice better sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a set of practices and habits that help promote better sleep. They include sleep-friendly things like getting exercise, exposing oneself to light at certain times of the day, eating sleep promoting foods, practicing relaxation techniques before bed, and making sure that the sleep environment is aimed at promoting quality sleep.

Another important thing to do is to make sure that other factors such as sleep disoders (including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and others) aren't also contributing to sleep loss. Your doctor may recommend having a sleep study performed to rule out any number of sleep disorders that may be contributing to your sleep loss, before concluding that the pain is solely responsible for your sleep problems.

The reason many doctors will first want to address the sleep environment and possible sleep disorders as contributing to sleep loss is because sleep medications can often interact with pain medications in a potentially dangerous way. In many cases it is much more likely that a doctor will recommend changing your sleep habits before prescribing more medications.

Simply having a higher motivation to make sleep a priority (even for those in pain) can increase the quantity and quality of sleep. The best thing a person can do that is having sleep troubles is to take control of their sleep by giving it precedence in their life.

 

If you live in Alaska and your doctor recommends that you have a sleep study to rule out sleep disorders contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic to receive a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep professional.

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Topics: sleep disorders

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