Is pain impacting on your sleep?

Published: 20 Oct 2016

Is pain impacting on your sleep?

We all know that we need sleep. Without adequate sleep we feel terrible and unable to take on the world. According to several studies, sleep plays an essential role in:

  • metabolism,
  • immune function,
  • memory and
  • learning.

Without sleep, your physical health and emotional wellbeing suffers.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage”. Pain can be acute or chronic, although it is the intensity and quality of pain that determines the effect on sleep.  Our nerves send intense pain signals which in turn activates our brain and keeps us awake. If chronic pain is keeping you awake at night, it could be a sign of something more serious and may need further investigation.

Pain is difficult to cope with at any time of the day. However, pain that stops you from your much needed sleep can be completely exhausting. Studies have shown that when people are unable to sleep due to the discomfort of pain, their anxiety levels increase, further interrupting their sleep. When pain continues to wake you up time-and-time again, it leads to pain-related insomnia which causes you to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

During sleep, we go through different stages of sleep and we need a certain amount of time in each stage to feel rested. These stages are:

  • light sleep,
  • deep sleep and
  • REM (rapid eye movement).

The REM cycle is important as it acts as the restorative part of our sleep cycle. We typically go through 4-6 cycles of each of these stages per night. If pain continuously wakes you up at night, it may bump you back into the light sleep stage.  The end result – you feel like you haven’t had any sleep at all! A shortened time spent in REM may also cause an enhanced sensitivity to pain.  Some studies say this is due to an increase in the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body when you are deprived of sleep.

Physiotherapy may assist you with the pain that is disturbing your sleep by investigating the underlying cause and providing treatment and exercises which focus on functional restoration. Exercise is important in both acute and chronic pain, although should be directed by your physiotherapist to ensure they do not aggravate your pain, thus contributing to the vicious cycle of interrupted sleep!

Do you know how much sleep is right for you?  Read our article about that here.

Christie Gardner Physiotherapist Penrith