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Sleep May Play Key Role in Easing Chronic Pain

Sleep May Play Key Role in Easing Chronic Pain  A new research study discovers efforts to improve sleep have a dual benefit for those who have sleep issues because of chronic pain.

In addition to catching some extra sleep minutes, improving the quality of sleep helps individuals stay more physically active, thereby helping them sleep better the next night.

“Engaging in physical activity is a key treatment process in pain management. Very often, clinicians would prescribe exercise classes, physiotherapy, walking, and cycling programs as part of the treatment, but who would like to engage in these activities when they feel like a zombie?”, said study lead-author Nicole Tang, Ph.D., of the University of Warwick.

In an article published in PLoS One, Tang and study co-author Adam Sanborn, Ph.D., examined the day-to-day association between night-time sleep and daytime physical activity in chronic pain patients.

“Many of the patients struggled to stay physically active after the onset of pain and we found that chronic pain patients spontaneously engaged in more physical activity following a better night of sleep,” Tang said.

“The research points to sleep as not only an answer to pain-related insomnia but also as a novel method to keep sufferers physically active, opening a new avenue for improving the quality of life of chronic pain sufferers.”

The study saw chronic pain patients wear an accelerometer that measured motor activity to monitor their physical activity round the clock for a week in their usual sleeping and living environment.

Additionally, they gave ratings of their sleep quality, pain intensity, and mood using a mobile electronic diary every morning on waking.

Researchers used the time-specific data to determine, for individual patients, whether the quality of their sleep had an impact on how physically active they were the following day.

Multilevel models for each of the predictors were fit, and the only reliable predictor of physical activity was sleep quality.

A comparison between multilevel models demonstrated that sleep was a better predictor of physical activity than morning ratings of pain intensity or mood.

Considering the implications of the study, Tang said that “the prospect of promoting physical activity by regulating sleep may offer a novel solution to an old problem.”

“The current study identified sleep quality, rather than pain and low mood, as a key driver of physical activity the next day. The finding challenges the conventional target of treatment being primarily focused on changing what patients do during the day.

“Sleep has a naturally recuperative power that is often overlooked in pain management. A greater treatment emphasis on sleep may help patients improve their daytime functioning and hence their quality of life,” she said.

Source: University of Warwick

Woman sleeping photo by shutterstock.

Sleep May Play Key Role in Easing Chronic Pain

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Sleep May Play Key Role in Easing Chronic Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Mar 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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