Back Pain and Insomnia: How Lack of Sleep Makes Pain Worse

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insomniaPeople suffering from chronic back pain understand its detrimental effect on daily activity, but what about its effect on your sleep? Approximately 65% of people in the U.S. who suffer from chronic back pain also reported having sleep disorders, including disrupted or non-restorative sleep and even insomnia.

Although too little sleep is often correlated with symptoms of numbness and lethargy, a recent study found that sleep deprivation may even exacerbate an individual's chronic back pain. For people who suffer from both, a vicious cycle is created: back pain prevents people from getting the sleep they need, and at the same time lack of sleep increases back pain. Intime, this leads to serious medical conditions and a diminished quality of life.

Chronic Back Pain Affects Sleep Quality

Chronic pain can affect sleep quality in a number of ways. In order to fall asleep, people try to eliminate all distractions from their mind and enter a state of relaxation. This includes quieting the room, turning off the lights, and trying to forget about that important meeting they had in the morning. However, with the mind free from all distractions, the only thing left is pain, and that's more than enough to keep even the deepest of sleepers awake. People who suffer from chronic back pain declare that one of the key ways they avoid it during the day is staying distracted-a state they cannot achieve when trying to sleep.

In addition to preventing people from falling asleep, chronic pain has also been linked to keeping people form staying asleep as well. Research has shown that people with chronic back pain can experience several micro-arousals or a sudden change in their sleep state per hour, which leads to awakenings. Even when an individual is able to fall asleep, not obtaining a proper REM sleep cycle will prevent the body's ability to provide restorative sleep. This leaves people with a poor night's sleep even if they got a full eight hours of sleep.

Sleep Deprivation Increases Sensitivity to Pain

A small prospective study presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies' 19th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, showed that healthy individuals had an enhanced sensitivity to pain when low on rest. Although there is no concrete evidence as to what causes this increased sensitivity to pain, some research suggests that the REM deprivation causes an increased production of inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines in the body. With heightened levels of these chemicals in the body, a person is more prone to hyperalgesia, an increased sensitivity to pain.

The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep

As people enter this endless cycle of chronic pain and lack of sleep, the importance of a good night's sleep becomes all the more evident. But what about the other effects that sleep deprivation has on your body?

Research has shown that lack of sleep can lead to an increased risk of serious medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and breast and colon cancer. Furthermore, people low on rest have been shown to have increased risks of injuries at work and a heightened probability of getting in an accident. This goes to show that the effects of your chronic pain go far beyond your current state, considering that it can contribute to serious medical conditions and injury down the road.

If the pain keeps you up at night, you are not alone. The good news is that by working on reducing your chronic pain, you can help ensure a better night's sleep. Simple changes like eating healthier, exercising more, and losing weight can all help reduce your pain. If you continue to suffer from chronic back pain and lack of sleep, consult a medical professional to develop a treatment plan and get you back on your feet again.

Dr. Marc Browner is the Co-Owner of drbrowner.com in Plantation, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society and Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.

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