Many people experience occasional sleep disruptions, often due to certain lifestyle factors. You may be feeling stressed or consumed too much caffeine before bed but the relationship between spine health and sleep quality is important to consider.
Specifically, back pain can affect how soon you fall and stay asleep. People with chronic pain are less likely to stay asleep all night or may suffer from insomnia. In turn, lack of restorative sleep worsens back pain and continues to alter sleep quality.
Here’s what you should know about the effects of chronic back pain on a good night’s sleep.
What Is Insomnia?
A restless night does not automatically signal that you have insomnia. From a diagnostic perspective, this sleep disorder is characterized by:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up too early and being unable to fall back asleep
- Poor quality or lack of restful sleep
- Feeling tired when you wake up, which can affect energy, mood and productivity
Those with insomnia often have at least one other health condition. Based on research from the Institute of Medicine, 64 percent of people currently living with a health condition experience insomnia, with pain affecting sleep quality. Aside from physical discomfort, a condition like depression or anxiety may also be a contributing factor.
Long term, insomnia can aggravate back pain, affect your ability to hold a job or maintain a social life, and increase risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.
How Back Pain Affects Sleep
Between sleep quality and spinal health, back pain may be the primary source of insomnia and lack of restorative sleep. Factors include:
- Pain As a Distraction: During the day, you have tasks to focus on that distract you from the pain. Yet when you’re trying to fall asleep, your body is focused solely on the pain. It may also cause you to toss and turn or shift positions to get comfortable.
- Medication: Certain prescriptions for pain management have been known to alter sleep quality and cause some patients to develop sleep apnea.
- Lifestyle Changes: Chronic pain sufferers may find they can no longer perform their favorite activities with ease, particularly exercise. Physical inactivity during the day can also affect how well you sleep at night.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
A study published in SLEEP found that insomnia can increase your sensitivity to pain the next day. Failing to get adequate rest at night blocks the release of growth hormones, which are essential for tissue repair and addressing pain. When the body is unable to repair itself, the central nervous system becomes more sensitive to pain. The next time you go to sleep, the discomfort that was bothering you the night before may seem more intense.
A consistent lack of sleep also has the potential to alter cognitive function and immune response, interrupting the body’s repair process and amplifying pain. As this cycle continues, chronic back pain sufferers experience less deep or intense sleep. In turn, you may wake up feeling less alert, extra stiff or achy and may be fatigued, have lower energy and more prominent pain during the day.
Stress can play a factor too, causing your muscles to tense and result in more discomfort. Unfortunately, less restorative sleep can increase the amount of stress you feel. A lack of sleep can also contribute to inflammation, which further decreases sleep quality and accentuates any back pain you’ve been feeling.
Resting at night allows the muscles surrounding your spine to relax. As this occurs, the discs between each bone in your spine have the opportunity to rehydrate, which improves shock absorption and flexibility. Yet when this process is interrupted, you may notice more pain and stiffness during the day.
Ways to Improve Sleep Quality and Spine Health
While no single solution breaks the cycle, a chiropractor can simultaneously address back pain and spinal issues. We’ll treat the overarching effects of chronic pain through gentle adjustments and sleep deprivation with lifestyle changes. To get started:
- Think of your bedroom as a place for sleeping only. Avoid watching television, using electronic devices and working in this space.
- If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, do an activity somewhere else in the house that doesn’t involve a screen until you feel tired.
- Establish a routine schedule for waking up and falling asleep. Avoid daytime napping.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol before you go to bed, as both can increase restlessness.
- Assess how well your mattress and pillow support your body. Ideally, they should be firm enough to provide structure but not cause discomfort.
- Include muscle strengthening in your exercise routine but make sure the moves don’t place additional strain on your back.
Are you ready to experience better sleep? To address your spine health and get to the root of chronic back pain, work with our team at The Chiropractic Health Center of Glastonbury! To learn more or schedule an appointment, contact us today.