Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain

The Relationship Between Sleep and Pain

Poor sleep and chronic pain have an unfortunate relationship. Pain prevents us from falling asleep, and disrupted sleep actually increases our sensitivity to pain. The endless feedback loop of pain that causes sleepless nights and sleeplessness that increases pain was confirmed in 2006 by the study “Sleep Loss and REM Sleep Loss are Hyperalgesic from The Henry Ford Health System Sleep Disorders and Research Center in Detroit. Hyperalgesic is defined as “having an increased intensity of the sensation of pain.”

The study took a group of healthy, pain-free subjects and woke them at different intervals during the night—after eight hours, four hours, two hours, or no hours of sleep. The researchers periodically tested the subjects to measure how sensitive they were to high heat applied to a fingertip. The subjects who were allowed to sleep through the night were able to hold their finger to the heat longer than the subjects who had been prematurely awakened, indicating a correlation between sleep and higher tolerance for pain. “Essentially...increased bed time can act as a pain-alleviating drug,” said lead researcher, Professor Timothy Roehrs.

A Vicious Cycle

Pain and poor sleep have a bidirectional correlation: pain disturbs sleep and disturbed or shortened sleep worsens pain. Thus, accumulated sleep loss relates to increased sensitivity to chronic pain—a truly vicious cycle. Surveys completed by chronic pain sufferers revealed that 65 percent of participants were awakened in the middle of the night by their pain and 62 percent reported waking too early due to pain and being unable to get back to sleep again.

The National Sleep Foundation complied a list of the most common causes of sleep-interrupting pain:

  • Broad-spectrum back pain
  • Headaches
  • TMJ-derived facial pain
  • Musculoskeletal pain from arthritis or fibromyalgia
  • Abdominal pain in women
  • Cancer pain

Unsurprisingly, chronic pain sufferers have increased sensitivity to micro-arousals, defined by The National Sleep Foundation as “a change in the sleep state to a lighter stage of sleep.” In the long run, too many micro-arousals can significantly degrade sleep quality. Pain-induced sleep interruptions include

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking in the night
  • Waking too early
  • Non-restorative sleep

Individuals suffering from fibromyalgia or arthritis may also have to contend with restless leg syndrome and morning stiffness.

The European Sleep Works Solution

The key to breaking the cycle is alleviating nighttime pain as much as possible. While a mattress cannot be expected to work miracles, a well-designed mattress can make a dramatic difference in comfort. Likewise, an inferior quality, worn out, or inappropriate mattress can make an already painful problem worse. A mattress is an important part of what should be an integrated system to reduce chronic pain. Dr. Scott Bautch, a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association says it best: “Many people don’t realize the reason for their neck or back pain is literally right underneath them—it’s their mattress and pillow.

At European Sleep Works we engineer our sleep systems to provide comfort. Our mattresses are uniquely responsive and elastic. They are able to yield to the curves of the body, reducing surface tension and contact pressure. We pair our mattress with a European-style flexible, adjustable slat system. The slat system offers responsiveness and gentle support down the length of the body in all sleep positions. It distributes the weight of the body, providing both lift and give where needed.

We use innovative European coil systems designed to provide nuance, bouyancy, and stability. We cushion our mattresses with clean, elastic, all-natural latex foam. And, we encase our mattresses in stretch-knit cotton covers to reduce surface tension, alleviate contact pressure, and create better body mapping. We use only natural wool quilting for moisture transport and temperature regulation, which helps eliminate the discomfort that comes from dampness and overheating. For sleepers who need elevation (for sleep apnea or GERD), we manufacture our own 100% natural latex sleep wedge that can be added to any European Sleep Works sleep system.