People who sleep poorly may be more likely to develop a chronic pain condition.
A general decline in both the quantity and quality of hours slept led to a two- to three-fold increase in pain problems over time, according to a study to be published this summer in Sleep.
Sleep and pain problems are two of the biggest health problems in our society. It's a vicious circle. Pain is known to interfere with sleep. Yet the impact of sleep on pain is often bigger than the impact of pain on sleep. On top of that, sleep disturbances contribute to problems in the ability to process and cope with pain.
Overall, sleep reductions led to impaired responses to bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances, more inflammation, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and other biomarkers related to pain, fatigue and poor health. Newly developed insomnia doubled the risk of a chronic pain disorder and hip fracture problems. Deterioration in sleep was also associated with worse self-reported physical functioning.
It's not all bad. Researchers did find that improvement in sleep was associated with better physical functioning overall!
Why Is Sleep so Darn Important?!
Sleep is the price we pay for brains that are plastic and able to keep learning new things. Our synapses, the junctions between nerve cells, grow strong and large during the stimulation of daytime, then shrink by nearly 20 percent while we sleep, creating room for more growth and learning the next day.
Is Sleep on the Uptick?
Although more than one in three of us still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis from last month's Sleep shows the first signs of success.
According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated in the American Time Use Survey between 2003 and 2016, most Americans averaged an extra 7.5 hours of sleep each year over the 14-year period. That means daily sleep duration increased by 1.4 minutes on weekdays and 0.8 minutes on weekends per year.
At first glance, this may not seem like substantial progress. However, over the 14-year period it translates to 17.3 minutes more sleep each night, or 4.4 full days more sleep each year.
In addition to sleep, fewer respondents decided to read or watch TV prior to bed in the evening, two prominent activities that compete with sleep for time. This shows an increased willingness in parts of the population to give up pre-bed leisure activities to obtain more sleep.
If we can also put our mobile devices away at least one hour before bed and avoid eating two to three hours before bed, now we're talking!