Everything You Need To Know About Sleep, Pain

Thanks to daylight saving time (Mar. 14), you will likely miss out on some sleep this week; however, there’s never been a better time to start new habits – your body will thank you

At precisely 2 a.m. on Sunday, Mar. 14, a majority of Americans will transport forward in time, losing an hour of their beloved weekends and likely, 60 minutes of sleep. This isn’t science fiction, rather a century-old societal tradition we have come to know as daylight saving time, which occurs twice per year, seasonally each Fall and Spring.

While there’s much debate over whether daylight saving time still has a place in modern societies worldwide, there’s mounting evidence it may be significantly impacting our health. Because sleep is so essential, especially for those suffering from chronic and acute pain, our team of pain management experts is challenging patients to put extra preparation into daylight savings time this year.

In addition to springing forward clocks on Saturday night or Sunday morning, we are encouraging patients to take this time to examine their current sleep patterns and choose better habits – As part of Sleep Awareness Week (Mar. 14-20). Even small measures to improve sleep can dramatically improve overall health, mood and even reduce pain.

Circadian rhythms & the problem with change

Our bodies rely on an internal clock or circadian rhythm to regulate the function of cells and systems. This rhythm has variations from person to person but generally alerts us with a boost of energy in the morning, causes mid-day grogginess, and finally helps us fall asleep in the evenings. Beyond regulating alertness and energy levels, these circadian rhythms also influence hormone release, eating habits, digestion, body temperature and more.

With so many components of healthy body function connected to our circadian rhythm, even slight changes can wreak havoc. The desynchronization of our body clocks, which occurs twice a year due to daylight saving time or when we don’t get enough sleep, has been linked to increased health risks such as depression, obesity, heart attack, cancer, and even car accidents.

What is a good night’s rest? There’s no one-size solution

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than a third of adults in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep. As previously discussed, this negatively impacts our circadian rhythm and throws our bodies out of balance. Further, those who do not regularly get enough sleep can quickly become victims to sleep deprivation, a form of cognitive impairment that affects memory, motor skills and mood regulation. So, we need more rest, but how much?

The amount of sleep adults need varies but generally changes as you age. During infancy through the teen years, our bodies crave sleep, which powers development. As adults, we typically require seven or more hours per night. What is most important is that hours spent sleeping are good quality.

 Goal Setting – Quality & quantity

 With a target goal of getting approximately seven hours of sleep each night, how can we improve the quality of those hours? This isn’t simple. For those who live with the feeling of waking up tired after a full night of sleep, it can be frustrating or downright demoralizing. If experiencing this, it may be worthwhile to explore several factors:

  • Sleep Disorders – Many disorders can cause poor sleep quality, including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and insomnia. A consultation with a licensed physician should confirm if these issues or other conditions may be a factor.
  • Diet and Exercise – What and when we eat, plus daily activity levels, can dramatically impact sleep quality. Avoid eating and drinking late at night, consuming sugar, caffeine or alcohol.
  • Sleep Habits – In addition to getting up and going to bed at consistent times each day, there are many ways to build better sleep habits. Ensure your bedroom is dark, cool, quiet and comfortable. Avoid screens up to 30-minutes before bedtime

Finally, consider tracking your sleep through your phone. There is an abundance of phone applications that can monitor habits, sleep quality and even remind you of bedtime hours.

Tips for those in pain

Research has shown a strong indication that sleep is an effective painkiller. However, those suffering from chronic pain are often unable to fall asleep, frequently awaken throughout the night, and generally do not enjoy a high-quality sleep. This compounds fatigue for pain sufferers and can contribute to the development of more severe long-term health conditions.

We’ve examined the importance of sleep, the amount needed each night and how to improve sleep quality; however, this means little unless those in pain can break the cycle of insomnia. For those living with chronic pain and looking to improve their sleep, there are a few things our experts recommend:

  • Check your mattress – To sleep comfortably, your body needs to be supported, which is why having the right mattress is so important. Try switching to a medium-firm mattress; excessively soft or firm mattresses can cause or exacerbate back/hip pain
  • Take a stroll – Remember that your daily activity levels impact the quality of your sleep? This is even more critical for pain sufferers. Going for a quick walk in the evenings can help reduce anxiety, loosen stiff muscles and trigger your sleep cycle.
  • Stretch 10 minutes – Our bodies were not made to sit. Unfortunately, with daily work often involving being seated behind a desk or in a vehicle for extended periods, many people develop stiff muscles and, as a result, lower back pain. Taking 10 minutes to slowly stretch your muscles before bed effectively reduces this form of pain and is an excellent pre-bedtime ritual.
  • Practice breathing slowly and deeply – Breathing exercises, like taking slow, rhythmic breaths, allow the body to relax more fully and fall asleep faster. This kind of breathing has been shown to offer a myriad of other benefits, as well. It may help calm the mind, reduce anxiety, and alleviate pain.
  • Consider a natural sleep aid – Although there is a sea of products that promise a better night of sleep, some proven contenders have shown to be effective. Supplements like melatonin, zinc, magnesium, cherry extract, valerian capsules and chamomile are a few of our favorites.
  • Try switching your sleep position – Experts agree that sleeping position can significantly impact the quality of sleep and pain. Generally, sleeping on your stomach or the side of your body experiencing pain should be avoided. For those who chose to sleep on their back, elevating your knees with a pillow will reduce stress on the lower back by maintaining the spine's natural curve.

If you are experiencing sleep issues because of chronic or acute pain, we encourage you to seek professional medical guidance. Our team of dedicated pain relief specialists can help answer your questions and offer personalized care recommendations to help you rest and play without pain.