by Eleanor Fitzgerald, New You 

Every year, I aim to do some form of continuing professional development.

The past few years, my attention & learning has leaned more towards a deeper understanding of the complexity of pain. The medical model still has a long way to go in addressing pain, as anyone with persistent pain can tell you. There is however, excellent research being done, & much to be learned! The bio-psycho-social model is at the forefront of this. What that means, is we recognise that pain, in any given individual, encompasses a very wide range of inputs. It is rarely simple! SLEEP can be one of those inputs.

In the current crisis, many of us find our sleep patterns have been disrupted. We may not associate sleep with our pain, but it is worth considering. If someone has poor sleep patterns, their recovery from pain may become more complicated. The degree to which sleep is a factor unique to an individual, but here are a few points to think about.

Poor sleep can be a cause of persistent pain in healthy people. Poor sleep our increases risk of developing pain. While many realise that being in pain can cause poor sleep, studies now show that poor sleep among people without any pain can increase the risk of going on to develop pain.

Sleep is an essential function of survival, like eating or drinking. Therefore, when your body is not getting enough quality sleep, it can react negatively. It may do this by creating a general inflammatory response which can make you feel sick, tired, & irritable.

Poor sleep can delay recovery. The critical role of poor sleep in the development of pain is really only being explored in any detail in recent years. It can be the cause of an acute pain becoming persistent.

The number of hours sleep needed depends on the person.

Most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 8 hours, to function at their best. For some, less than 6 hours can lead to worsening back & neck pain. But remember, it is unique, and some can function well on less.

It is not only quantity, but also quality.

You should not only consider the length of sleep, but also questions such as “do I feel refreshed in the morning, & throughout the day”, “Do I not always need an alarm clock”, “Do I have enough energy through the day”. If you answer yes to these, you probably have enough sleep. If you wake tired, or if you slump during the day, you may not be getting appropriate, quality sleep.

Pain is one of the body’s protective responses to poor sleep.

Back pain is typically the person’s body being overprotective due to different factors. Poor sleep may make the body vulnerable to pain. For people who already have pain, it is important to note that the pathways for sleep & pain are linked, & affect each other. Poor sleep can “turn up the volume switch” on pain. The body is letting you know it just doesn’t feel as capable without sleep. Unfortunately, the message can become confused, and pain can begin to interfere with sleep, causing a vicious cycle.

Sleep schedule is important.

Going to bed at the same time every day (or most days) is important to establish a routine (and the same goes for waking up). This rhythm will help keep you refreshed througout the day. Sometimes, people in pain go to bed very late, as they seek to make themselves exhausted before bedtime so that they sleep when they go to bed. Unfortunately, this cycle can add to their pain.

Exercise regularly is a must.

Even though exercise has been consistently shown to help both sleep patterns & pain, many people in pain avoid it as they are afraid it will make things worse. It is essential not fear exercise, but rather build it up gradually to let your body get used to it. The body is designed to move, & needs it!

Boosting mood & reducing stress is key.

If someone suffers from stress, depression or anxiety, the chances of them having pain & sleep problems are much higher. Addressing these issues is not alway easy. Taking steps to cope with stress, mood & anxiety could have a significant effect on your quality of sleep & on your pain.

Note that poor sleep doesn’t always lead to back pain!

People can have pain & not have a sleep problem, or have poor sleep & not have any pain. However, this shouldn’t make you think that addressing sleep is not important. Our overall health & longevity will always benefit from healthier sleep patterns!


If you would like some practical help improve your sleep, check out this Sleep Resources site for some evidence informed resources!

If you need any advice or support in exploring & gaining trust in movement, get in touch!

Eleanor Fitzgerald
087 753 0430
New You Neuromuscular Therapy & Pilates

See New You’s wc19 entry here.
And check out their online fitness events here.


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