Sleep Deprivation and Back Pain: An Interconnected Relationship

Back pain is no laughing matter. It can interfere with the ability to live an active life and elicit pain during simple tasks. Getting a full night’s rest, that’s at least seven to nine hours of sleep, plays a bigger role in reducing back pain than many realize. As a natural biological function, rest is essential to reducing and managing back pain.

Sleep and Pain: A Tumultuous Relationship

Sleep and pain have a tumultuous relationship because pain can easily interfere with the sleep-wake cycle. However, sleep deprivation can reduce pain tolerance, which can make it even more difficult to get a full night’s rest.

A study published in Sleep explored the relationship between sleep time and pain tolerance by measuring the amount of time it took participants to withdraw their finger from a radiant heat source. Results showed that those who got four hours of sleep had 25 percent less pain tolerance than those who’d gotten eight hours of sleep, which is considered a full night’s rest.

Another group of researchers questioned what would happen if sleep time were extended from eight to ten hours. While the changes in pain tolerance were mild, those who slept ten hours still showed more pain tolerance than those who slept less.

However, the very sleep needed to reduce pain can be equally disrupted by back pain. That’s where a good mattress and pain management come into play.

The Right Mattress

A review of mattress designs and their effects on sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment found that a medium-firm mattress frequently helps reduce low back pain. Mattresses of all types including memory foam, latex, innerspring, and hybrids can all be found in medium-firm options. However, there are individual exceptions to this rule.

Sleep position plays a big role in back pain and can change the firmness and type of mattress needed. Stomach sleepers need a firmer mattress to prevent an arch in the spine. On the other hand, side sleepers need a softer mattress to account for the curves of the body pressing into the surface of the mattress. A focus on comfort and good spinal alignment between shoulders and hips can help you find the right type for your sleep position.

If you weigh under 130 pounds, you may need a softer mattress for better spine alignment. On the other end of the spectrum, those over 230 pounds generally need a firmer mattress to keep the spine in alignment.

Better Pain Management

Managing back pain before getting into bed can also improve sleep quality. Depending on the location and source of the back pain, it might take some trial and error to find a combination of treatments that reduce pain.

  • Hot/Cold Treatments: Ice packs numb the area and reduce swelling. Heat, on the other hand, brings blood to the area for better healing and acts as a natural muscle relaxer.
  • Massage Therapy: The manipulation of muscle and tissue helps move lactic acid out of the muscles and relieves knots and tension. Relief may last for a few days but continued treatments might be necessary for prolonged pain relief.
  • Spinal Adjustments: Sometimes areas of the body become imbalanced. A licensed chiropractor can help identify these points and restore balance to the body using spinal adjustments and other chiropractic methods.

With adequate sleep, the right mattress, and a focus on continuing pain management, you can bring back pain under control. Better sleep can not only help you live the active lifestyle you want but also reduce the pain in your life.