How Sleeping Habits Affect Back Pain

How Sleeping Habits Affect Back Pain

tired-manToday’s guest post was written by the sleep experts at The Sleep Help institute, an online resource for sleep health and tips to help readers get a better night’s sleep.

If you have back pain, you have probably spent some nights staring at the ceiling and wishing you could get to sleep. It’s well known that dealing with pain can make it harder to get to sleep. However, fewer people are aware of how this lack of sleep can affect their back pain in turn. Unfortunately, back pain and sleep can become a vicious cycle. When you can’t sleep due to back pain, the pain may be perceived as worse than it is, which makes it more difficult to sleep.

Fortunately, the opposite is also applicable. If you can manage to get eight hours of sleep each night, your back pain might diminish.

Sleep Deprivation Decreases Pain Tolerance

Sleep deprivation may reduce your ability to tolerate pain. In a small study, researchers asked subjects to hold their fingers over a heat source. Those who slept eight hours, as opposed to four hours, were able to withstand the pain for 25% longer. Even if your condition or injury is not improving, getting eight hours of sleep may allow you to tolerate the pain more easily.

Sleep Deprivation Slows Recovery

Back pain is often due to injury, though not always. During sleep, the body repairs and restores itself. Sleeping less may result in muscle loss. On the other hand, sleeping eight hours per night or more could aid in recovery from a muscular back injury.

Sleep Deprivation Makes Pain Medication Less Effective

If you take pain medication, like codeine, for your back pain, sleeping eight hours per night may keep it working as it should. In another small study, researchers found that those who were sleepy did not respond as well to the codeine. The effects of the pain medication were diminished. While this may not hold true for all pain medications, it does show what a vital role that sleep plays in our perception of pain.

People with back pain who experience this diminished response to drugs might want to consider alternative therapies. Chiropractic care can often be helpful in managing and improving back pain.

How to Improve your Sleep

Maintaining eight hours or more of sleep per night often requires a comfortable sleeping environment and a regular bedtime routine. Although mattresses are rarely the only cause of back pain, the wrong one can exacerbate your condition. If you have back pain, a medium-firm mattress is a good solution because it is firm enough to support your back but soft enough to feel pleasant. There are also a few other changes you can make to sleep more comfortably in your bedroom. Use blackout curtains to keep light pollution out at night and use earplugs to minimize nighttime noises. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for sleep, not a multipurpose space.

A daily routine before bed can also make sleep come more quickly. Going to bed at the same time each night teaches your body to get tired around that time. Your body will start releasing melatonin when you are ready to go to bed each night. It will also help if you remove devices from your hands during the last hour before bed. Staring at a bright screen can convince your brain to suppress the release of melatonin (so that it doesn’t register that it’s night time until a few hours later).

These small steps can help you sleep more fully and better manage back pain.