The Link Between Poor Sleep and Widespread Pain

Widespread pain, such as that associated with fibromyalgia, afflicts 15% of women and 10% of men over age 50. A UK study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology establishes a link between poor sleep and widespread pain, suggesting that if only we caught enough zzzzs our bodies could be pain free.

mature woman sleepingThe Link Between Sleep and Pain

The study, made up of 4,326 UK adults over age 50 and free of widespread pain, found that while anxiety, substandard physical health, cognitive issues, and osteoarthritis all contributed to widespread pain, the strongest predictor happened to be lack of restorative sleep. Participants were surveyed about pain, physical and emotional health, and lifestyle behaviors at the beginning and end of the study. After three years, 19% of those surveyed reported new widespread pain.

The common predictor was consistent poor sleep. The study’s senior author, Ross Wilkie explained to Reuters Health:

“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…”

Although further studies are needed to determine the cause and effect relationship, it is clear poor sleep and widespread pain are indeed linked.

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is intertwined with circadian rhythm—the natural cycle of sleep and wake that drives every single one of our biological processes on a cellular level. When inadequate sleep destabalizes your circadian cycle, it disrupts virtually every aspect of your health. Insufficient sleep increases your risk for heart disease and cancer. It adversely affects brain health by suppressing the production of new nerve cells and brain cells, and impedes the release of human growth hormone that is a vital part of the restorative process during sleep.

Sleep is compromised by more than just a racing brain that can’t seem to disconnect. People tend to spend more and more time indoors and deskbound, rather than out in the sunlight. We then flood our evenings with artificial light and digital stimulation, rather than honoring our circadian rhythm and allowing our bodies to secrete the sleep-stimulating hormone melatonin as it gets dark. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, linked to obesity and potentially controlled by even moderate weight loss, make it that much more difficult to secure sufficient shut-eye.

Catch Some Quality Zzzzs

Many of the problems we having getting and staying asleep are caused by subtle lifestyle behaviors that unsync us from our circadian cycle, such as caffeine intake after noon and netflix streaming after dark. Sufficient sleep is well within your reach with the following sleep tips:

Wake with the morning: Your body is naturally programmed to wake with the rising sun. Spending 10 minutes each morning outside, soaking up the sun’s rays, helps increase cortisol levels and regulate your circadian rhythm.

Take a midday sun bath: Spend 30 minutes outside in the sun as part of your lunch break to make sure that you are exposed to enough natural light.

Welcome the darkness: Rather than flooding your home in artificial light once the sun sets, why not let your space get darker? Use low-wattage yellow, orange, and red bulbs with bandwidths that don’t interfere with melatonin production…unlike white and blue bandwidths that activate the awake hormone seratonin.

Disconnect with digital: Put down the smartphones, computers, and televisions, and disconnect with all things digital and electronic at least one hour before bedtime.