~ Dr. Christina Vlahopoulos, ND
Sleep disturbances can be one of the more prevalent complaints in people with chronic pain. Of course it is hard to relax and get to sleep when you cannot get into a comfortable position. However, what if it was your lack of sleep that was making your pain worse? Or maybe it was the lack of sleep that caused your chronic pain in the first place?
Recent research has shown a reciprocal relationship between chronic pain and sleep. Some studies showed that sleep deprivation indeed caused an increase in pain perception in previously healthy adults. The participants felt overall muscle and joint pain, tenderness and fatigue. Therefore, the less sleep a person got, the more pain they felt. This could be a contributing factor for those with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia. In a Finnish study, it was shown that people with fibromyalgia slept less, and lacked a deeper, restful sleep compared to those without chronic pain. This could mean people with fibromyalgia feel pain more acutely because they just are not getting the rest they need.
This pain pattern can also be seen in those with conditions such as, rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, low back pain due to a work related injury and even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It cannot be underestimated just how much tissue repair happens while we are catching our Zzz’s.
Whether it is the chicken or the egg, sleep problems can continue to exacerbate chronic pain, and pain can continue to make sleep elusive. A good nights rest is important for overall recovery and sometimes can be at the root cause of chronic pain. Therefore, if a person experiences some form of chronic pain, it is equally as important to address the insomnia.