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How significant is the pain and sleep problem?

Your back is throbbing and has been for weeks. You can barely move from your bed, but you are not getting any sleep because of the intense pain. This is a pretty common scenario, explains David Neumeyer, the associate director of the Sleep Disorder Center at theLahey Clinic Medical Center in Burlington, Mass. “Pain and sleep are integrally connected,” he says.The impacts of pain-related sleep loss on millions of Americans are far-reaching. The problem is a notable one given the number of Americans who suffer from pain. The 2015 Sleep in America Poll found that 21 % of Americans experience chronic pain and 36 % have had acute pain in the past week. Those combine to a majority of the nation's adult population, 57 %, leaving 43 % who report being pain free.

How does pain affect sleep?

Pain can be the main reason that someone wakes up multiple times a night, and this results in a decrease of sleep quantity but also quality, and on the flip side, sleep deprivation can lower your pain threshold and pain tolerance and make existing pain feel even worse. Pain joins two related concerns – stress and poor health, as key correlates of shorter sleep durations and worse sleep quality.

Pain is prevalent, and sleep suffers

Beyond sleep debt, self-reported sleep quality and stress levels underscore the effects of pain on sleep. 65% of those with no pain reported good or very good sleep quality, while only 45% of those with acute pain and 37% of those with chronic pain did the same. Additionally, 23% of those with chronic pain reported higher stress levels, compared with 7% of those without pain. People with pain are also far more apt than others to report that lack of sleep interferes with their mood, activities, relationships and enjoyment of life overall. 

People with pain also feel less control over their sleep, worry more about lack of sleep affecting their health and exhibit greater sleep sensitivity. They’re more likely than others to say environmental factors make it more difficult for them to get a good night’s sleep. These factors include noise, light, temperature and their mattresses.

Sleep is a key indicator of overall health

While sleeping well is no guarantee of good health, it does help to maintain many vital functions. One of the most important of these functions may be to provide cells and tissues with the opportunity to recover from the wear and tear of daily life. Major restorative functions in the body such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis occur almost exclusively during sleep. Americans who say they have very good or excellent health and quality of life, report sleeping 18 to 23 minutes longer on average in the past week than those who rate their health and quality of life as just good, fair or poor. Indeed, reported sleep duration and quality decline linearly with each health rating, showing that perceptions of one’s sleep and health are deeply related.