Sleep Well With Back or Neck Pain
Why quality rest is essential to a healthy back and neck
Written by Frank L. Acosta, MD
Anyone who’s had back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or any other chronic spine condition will tell you: Their pain is much more than physical. Chronic pain can cause mental and emotional issues, and its complex nature can come between you and a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is a key element to good health, so the importance of addressing your sleep issues cannot be overstated. If you’ve had a long-term spine condition and struggle with getting quality rest, you’re not alone—as many as two-thirds of chronic pain sufferers have sleep disorders. Sleep is a key element to good health, so the importance of addressing your sleep issues cannot be overstated.
Unfortunately, getting restful slumber is more complicated when you have a spinal condition. Chronic back pain and insomnia often go hand-in-hand, and some spine pain medications can cause sleep problems.
Restorative sleep may seem like an elusive goal when you have back and neck pain, but you have more control than you may think. Sometimes, finding the right sleep position does the trick. Perhaps it’s making changes to your environment or diet. Or, it’s having a conversation with your doctor about the therapeutic options available to you. Whatever the means, acknowledging your sleep issues and doing something about them is good for your health.
Z's 101: A Brief Sleep Primer
Healthy sleep involves cycling through five stages: stages 1, 2, 3, 4, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A full sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes to complete. Once you finish the five stages, you start over at stage 1.
Below is a look at each sleep stage:
* Stage 1: This is the lightest stage of sleep, and it’s characterized by slowed eye movement and relaxed muscle activity.
* Stage 2: Eye movements stop and brain waves slow down.
* Stage 3: As you enter this first stage of deep sleep, extremely slow brain waves appear. It’s difficult to wake someone during this stage.
* Stage 4: This is the second stage of deep sleep—no eye or muscle activity occurs. Like stage 3, it’s hard to rouse someone when they’re in this stage.
* REM sleep: This is the dreaming phase. Breathing quickens, heart rate and blood pressure increases, and eyes dart around in different directions. REM sleep is particularly important, as scientists believe it contributes to storing memories, learning, and regulating your mood.
Adults spend about half of their total sleep time in stage 2, about 20% in REM sleep, and 30% in the other stages
Beyond the Back: How Poor Sleep Hurts Your Health
Getting restorative sleep is the foundation for total health, so it has implications far beyond your spine.
When you regularly enjoy a solid night’s rest, you set yourself up for success physically, mentally, and emotionally. On the flip side, poor sleep contributes to numerous chronic health issues, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and mental illness.
Lack of sleep has also been shown to disrupt hormones that control hunger and appetite, which promotes weight gain. Excess weight hurts your back. Even 5 to 10 extra pounds puts pressure on your spinal structures, and can worsen pain and other symptoms of an existing spinal problem and/or create new ones.
Steps to Start Today to Sleep Well Tonight
Sleep is a central player in your good health, including your spine. But when you have back, neck, or joint pain, getting the sleep you need can be extra challenging. Just because you have a spinal condition does not condemn you to sleepless nights—you can do many things to set yourself up for sleep success. Creating good sleep habits, along with discussing treatment options with your doctor, can help you sleep soundly.
Bolash R, Drerup M. How to Beat Insomnia When You Have Chronic Pain. Cleveland Clinic Web site. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/12/managing-insomnia-for-those-with-chronic-pain/. Published December 18, 2015. Accessed April 18, 2017.
Improving Sleep: Special Health Report. Boston, MA: Harvard Medical School; 2015.
What is Sleep? American Sleep Association Web site. https://www.sleepassociation.org/patients-general-public/what-is-sleep/. Accessed April 18, 2017.