Ask SleepBetter: Lack of Sleep and Chronic Pain

Have you wondered about something related to sleep, but just can’t find the answer? Lots of people do, and that’s why we created Ask SleepBetter. You can ask your own question on the SleepBetter Facebook Page, or by using our Ask SleepBetter contact form. We will try to answer as many questions as possible, but we are not able to answer queries about physical issues or medicinal issues. Those should be addressed face-to-face with a physician.

Today’s question is about the relationship between sleep and pain:

“I’m 22 years old.  Can lack of sleep cause body aches?”
-Renee (via email)

Yes — lack of sleep CAN cause body aches. In fact, it can cause a lot worse pain than everyday aches and pains.

A recent study showed that lack of sleep is the strongest predictor for pain in adults over 50. While I understand you’re less than half that age, the findings may be extrapolated to younger individuals. According to this article, the senior author of the study, Russ Wilkie, said the following:

“In older adults, widespread pain, that is pain that affects multiple sites in the body, is common and is associated with morbidity and disability including poor mental health and reduced physical functioning…Non-restorative sleep was the strongest predictor of new onset widespread pain.”

Another study showed how chronic pain can be reduced with sleep. We talked about that study here on SleepBetter.org in 2012:

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit recruited 18 healthy, pain-free volunteers who were randomly assigned to four nights of either maintaining their regular sleep time or extending their slumber to 10 hours. Before starting the tests, pain tolerance was tested, with patients holding their finger against a radiant heat source.

After four days, researchers ran the pain test again. The patients who slept 10 hours per night were able to tolerate the heat source 25-percent longer. This effect is similar to taking a 60-mg dose of the painkiller codeine twice per day.

Poor sleep can impact virtually every aspect of your health, because your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) “drives” the rhythms of biological activity at the cellular level.  Improving your sleep can improve your overall health in a myriad of ways.

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