Pain and Sleep: It’s a Chicken-or-the-Egg Situation

Todd Albert, MDYou may remember a parent or grandparent expressing an old adage about a chicken and an egg. It was the proverbial conundrum that no one seemed to be able to confirm for sure: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. However, this question does provide bearings for some of our modern-day predicaments. For example, when pain is present and sleep is poor, which occurred first? This question is much easier to figure out. In most cases, pain is the trigger for decreased sleep quality.

According to a statement from the Cleveland Clinic, chronic joint pain of some kind accounts for 50 to 90 percent of sleepless nights for American adults. This could be pain in the knees, hips, back, neck, or other areas. While pain is problematic in its own right, the poor sleep that results from not being able to get comfortable can then spread into secondary problems like an increased risk of accidents or the onset of anxiety and depression.
The science is quite clear about joint pain and sleep. Research indicates that during the day, when we are moving around more frequently, the body is instructed to make lubricants for the joints. Inactivity signals to the body that the joints need no extra lubrication. When joint issues exist, this lack of lubrication that occurs at night can trigger aches and other pains.

Can Joint Pain be Reduced at Night?

There may be a few ways to improve sleep in the face of persistent pain. Experts suggest:

  • Trying different sleeping positions. If neck pain is worse when sleeping on the stomach, learn to sleep on the side or back. If back pain is worse at night, try sleeping on the side with a pillow between the knees.
  • Invest in bedding. Back and neck pain may be highly responsive to mattresses and pillows. If a mattress is several years old, it may be time for a switch. Every person is different in terms of needs, so it is important to lie on several different mattresses to identify the right level of firmness. Pillows, too, are important for those with back or neck pain.
  • Practice healthy nighttime rituals. That nightcap or glass of red wine may seem relaxing, but it can have the opposite effect than intended. For a better night’s sleep, try turning off all digital devices at least an hour before bed and turning the lights down low. This signals the body to naturally produce melanin, the sleep chemical.

Is pain keeping you up at night? This may be an indication that medical care is needed. A thorough consultation and examination of the back or neck can determine the origin of pain and may also surprise you with simple forms of treatment.

We’re here to help you resolve chronic back or neck pain. Call 212-606-1004 to schedule a visit to our NYC office.

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