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What to Do if Aches and Pains Interfere with Your Sleep

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Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep for their bodies to fully recover from a day's worth of activity. However, 28 to 40 percent of adults in the United States report getting less than seven hours of sleep, putting them in a state of sleep deprivation. The causes of sleep deprivation vary from stress to sleep disorders but, in some cases, chronic pain works its way into the mix, which can make falling and staying asleep a serious challenge.

When Pain Causes Sleeplessness
Sleep and pain have a cyclical relationship that can be hard to break. Where the cycle starts may vary, but the results are often the same. Let's start with pain that causes sleeplessness. Maybe you have lower back pain due to sitting at a work desk all day, for example. When you lie down at night, your back starts throbbing and no matter what position you lay in, you can't get comfortable. You toss and turn for two hours before you finally sink into a restless sleep.

While pain anywhere in the body can make sleep difficult, shoulder, back, and neck pain, in particular, are hard because they're often aggravated by a prone position. In these cases, preventative measures can help.

* Hot/Cold Treatment: Depending on the nature of the pain, a hot or cold pack can relieve sore spots and promote healing. If there's any kind of swelling, start with a cold pack to shrink cells and numb the pain. A heating pad, hot pack, or hot shower relaxes muscles to relieve tension.

* Comfortable Bed: It might take some trial and error to find the right combination of mattress and bedding that helps reduce your pain, but it can be done. For example, an adjustable bed could support chronic neck or knee pain while a memory foam mattress or mattress topper can conform to your body and reduce shoulder pain. Some manufacturers or stores give you a 30 to 90 day trial period with a mattress, which gives you time to tell if it reduces your pain before you're committed to buying.

* Topical Analgesics: Creams, lotions, and ointments may not work through the entire night, but they often offer enough relief so you can fall asleep. Some analgesics function as counter-irritants that distract the brain by stimulating the nerve endings. Others act as a painkiller by disrupting the nerve signals, telling the brain there's no pain.

* Professional or Self Massage: Massage manipulates the muscle tissue to relieve tension. It can be used to target trouble spots or as an overall relaxation treatment. If you don't want to spend the money on a professional massage, foam rollers, massage sticks, and massage balls can be used to work out trouble areas at home.

When Sleeplessness Causes/Adds to Pain
Pain isn't always where sleep problems start. Stress, sleep disorders, and even poor sleep habits can lead to sleep deprivation too. Unfortunately, whether you're suffering from chronic pain or not, lack of sleep can leave you sore and achy.

It's while you sleep, specifically during stage 3 sleep, that the body releases the human growth hormone necessary for muscle repair. Alter your sleep cycle by going to bed two or three hours late or sleep less than seven hours, and the body doesn't have enough time to release the growth hormone necessary for complete healing. You're left stiff, sore, and achy with muscles that aren't at full strength.

That's not the only way sleep deprivation leads to pain. In a study published in Sleep, researchers compared pain sensitivity after four hours of sleep to that after eight hours. Participants resisted mild pain for 25 percent longer when they'd gotten a full night's rest. Lack of sleep also reduces the effectiveness of pain medications, both over-the-counter and prescription.

Essentially, all aspects of pain management benefit from better, more restful sleep.

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Better Sleep with Healthy Habits
Your daily habits influence everything about your sleep, which means, you'll need to develop habits like:

* Turning Out the Lights on Time: A regular bedtime is one of the single most powerful ways to improve your sleep. The human body likes a routine and will adjust the release of sleep hormones to fit a consistent schedule.

* Eating Regularly Timed and Spaced Meals: The timing of your meals influences the release of sleep hormones. Like with a bedtime, consistency is key. You should also eat smart by avoiding heavy, high-fat foods close to bedtime. They can cause indigestion that could keep you awake for hours.

* Going Outside: Natural light signals the circadian region, which controls your sleep cycle. Plenty of outside time will make sure your body stays on track and releases hormones when it starts to get dark.

* Establishing a Bedtime Routine: Routines help signal the brain to release of sleep hormones. They also give you a chance to relieve any tension and stress that's built up throughout the day. Any activity that leaves you calm and relaxed makes a good addition to your routine. Consistent effort and patience can make a difference for both your pain and sleep. Before you know it, you'll be sleeping better so that pain doesn't play a central role in your life.


Stacey Nash

Stacey L. Nash is a Seattle area writer for Tuck.com whose insomnia led her to research all aspects of sleep. With a degree in communications from the University of Puget Sound, she helps put sleep into the forefront of the health and wellness conversation. When not researching and writing about sleep, she spends time with her husband and four children on their heavily-wooded, twelve-acre piece of heaven.

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Maintaining good health is an essential part of achieving happiness and success in life. Pain and discomfort can stop you from living an active and productive lifestyle, because when the body doesn’t feel good, the mind doesn’t either.

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