Difficulty in achieving a good night’s sleep is common among patients who have recently undergone surgery. Read the article below to know the close and complex relationship between pain and poor sleep.
The connection between sleep problems and pain is a complicated one — and goes both ways, new research suggests. |
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Anyone who has ever struggled for sleep while recovering from injury or surgery knows that pain can ruin a good night’s rest. People who suffer from chronic pain know it all too well.
But fewer people may know that the relationship between sleep and pain seems to go both ways.
“People who have pain have more sleep problems, but people who have sleep problems also have more pain,” says Daniel Clauw, a rheumatologist who directs a chronic pain and fatigue research center at the University of Michigan.
The sleep problems sometimes come first, Clauw says. Even when pain comes first, sleeplessness can make it worse, he and other experts say.
“Your body needs to rest and restore itself,” says Penney Cowan, founder and executive director of the American Chronic Pain Association, a patient support group. “The more tired you are, the harder it is for a normal person to keep moving. It’s even worse when you are in chronic pain.”
A new survey from the National Sleep Foundation, a non-profit group, shows just how close and complex the relationship between pain and poor sleep can be. The survey of 1,029 adults found 21% suffered from chronic (long-lasting) pain and another 36% had acute (short-lasting) pain in the previous week.
Just 36% of those in chronic pain and 46% of those in acute pain reported good or very good sleep quality, compared with 65% of pain-free adults. About 23% with chronic pain had been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, vs. 5% with acute pain and 6% without pain.
People in pain got less sleep, felt less control over their sleep and worried more about the effects of lost sleep.
The survey did not ask whether people had been diagnosed with painful conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches or nerve damage. It also did not address whether sleeping problems or pain developed first.
But a growing body of research suggests a lack of sleep makes people more vulnerable to pain, says Timothy Roehrs, a psychologist who directs a research and sleep disorders center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He and Clauw were among researchers who worked on the poll.
In several experiments, Roehrs and colleagues have deprived people of sleep and then compared them to well-rested people on a pain-reaction test. The sleepy people are faster to pull their fingers away from a painful stimulus — a nearby hot light bulb — suggesting increased pain sensitivity, he says.
In another study, people assigned to get extra sleep in the week before elective knee or hip surgery ended up using fewer painkillers after surgery than those who did not try to get extra sleep.
That suggests that making sleep a priority might make a difference for people in pain, Roehrs says. The poll findings support that idea. Participants were asked how motivated they were to get enough sleep and how important they thought it was to go to bed on time. Those who were highly motivated and thought bedtimes were important slept more hours, even if they were in pain, the survey found.
Dr. Michael Steuer of MidSouth Pain Treatment Center is a board-certified educator and author of several works on pain management. Visit this website to know more about his expertise.