Overcoming the Back Pain and Insomnia Loop

Alarming Back Pain & Insomnia Statistics

A leading cause of disability in the U.S., 8 out of every 10 Americans will experience some form of back pain in their lifetime. And, of the working population, 1 out of every 2 employees will complain of back pain within a given year.

With the odds forever stacked outside of your favor, the ill effects of back pain can seep into other facets of your life. You can miss out on cherished time with family, vacations, hobbies, and yes, even sleep!

Of the individuals who suffer from chronic back pain, or lumbago, 80% report difficulties with falling (and staying) asleep. So much so, in fact, that doctors now recognize insomnia as a medical or a mental health condition. (Although, frankly, the distinction is somewhat blurred. A good night’s sleep is indispensable to both your physical and mental health, after all!)

When it comes to the physical side of things, however, sleep provides a crucial time for your body to relax and repair itself. For example, do you work as a desk jockey, typing away at a computer all day long? Or, as a construction or factory worker, heaving heavy equipment into a work truck? Both of these jobs–although wildly different in the amount of physical activity that they involve–place a ton of strain on your lower back. Your body uses sleep as a vital period of rest to repair this day-to-day abuse.

What is the Back Pain & Insomnia Loop?

If you’re like us, then you’re constantly daydreaming about catching that perfect night’s sleep, because let’s face it… Day-to-day life is exhausting!

…But, what if your back hurts so much that you can’t sleep? And, because you can’t sleep, your body misses out on a key time for rejuvenation? Usually, this leads to experiencing even more back pain during the day. In fact, we refer to this form of sleep deprivation as “The Back Pain & Insomnia Loop,” because it can become a vicious cycle.

Consider these other factors that feed into the sleep disturbance & back pain cycle:

  • Sleeping disorders can dampen the immune system, leading to colds, infections, the flu… you name it! When our bodies must work overtime to ward off an infection, there is less time left over for our bodies to maintain optimal spine health. Just as we can become stretched too thin at work, so too can our immune system become too overtaxed to function adequately. (Of course, this spells even more back discomfort for patients with chronic pain.)
  • Sleep disturbances also disrupt cognitive function, meaning that you can’t think clearly as you try to go about your day. Not only this, but sleeping problems affect how the brain processes pain. This means that when you fail to achieve that deep sleep, your brain magnifies how you respond to and experience pain during your waking hours.
  • Studies show that poor sleep is linked to adverse metabolic changes that encourage the body to gain weight. (Although scientists don’t understand the precise reason why this occurs… it definitely happens.) Unfortunately, carrying that excess weight places added stress on our joints, which ultimately leads to more back pain.

So, how can you break the back pain & insomnia cycle? Let’s find out.

Tips for Beating the Odds: Finding the Perfect Mattress

The secret to achieving a better quality of sleep begins in the bedroom. With your mattress.

Although all healthy spines share the same traits, all unhealthy spines do not. For this reason, you need to find the perfect mattress that suits your unique curvature. In general, firm mattresses provide an added level of support that surpasses the competition. A firm mattress can distribute your weight evenly, so no particular area of your spine receives more strain than the rest.

But, what about those super-pillowy, foam mattress? Although these feel heavenly when you sink deep down into them, they’re not actually ideal for your spine. Yes, they mold to your body; but your spine is left without very much support. And, this can compound the pain that you experience during your daylight hours. For best results, stick to a firm but flexible mattress that isn’t too hard. (It’s definitely equally as bad to feel as though you’re sleeping on a rock all night long!)

In addition, don’t neglect to use a pillow. Although many of us prefer using thin pillows, they also aren’t the best at cradling the head with adequate support. If you dislike a thicker pillow, then give waterbase pillows a shot. These pillows contain an inner chamber that is filled with water and adjusts to meet your specific support needs. A simple, but miraculous feat of innovation considering the wide range of variation from person-to-person!

Don’t neglect the principles of good sleep hygiene!

The foundation for a good night’s sleep actually begins during the daytime. To give your back it’s best chance, try the following tips:

  • If your doctor has cleared you for exercise, try to get at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity during the day. Weight-bearing exercise keeps your joints healthy and can strengthen the muscles of your back. But, quality exercise also wears the body out in a healthy way that promotes sleep.
  • Avoid chemicals. If you smoke or drink caffeine, try to avoid intaking both of these substances in the hours before bedtime. Also, unless prescribed, be careful about the use of pain medications to ease your nighttime discomfort. Although these drugs definitely have their time and place, they can also become addictive.
  • Avoid taking long naps during the daytime. (Although research shows that 15-30 minute power naps can benefit the body, and our attention span in particular.)
  • Limit the use of electronics before bed. Electronics emit blue light and suppress melatonin (the sleepy-making chemical), which announces to your brain that it’s time to wake up. If you like to read on your iphone or kindle before bedtime, see if the manufacturers equipped your device with nighttime settings. You can program these settings to switch the light spectrum to warm tones after a certain time of night.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) if your initial sleep problem stems from anxiety or depression. A CBT therapist can teach you useful methods, like relaxation and biofeedback, that make falling asleep at night a breeze.

When all else fails, seek the professional guidance of a board-certified orthopedist.

An orthopedic surgeon wears many different hats. But, one of the aces up their sleeve is the technology required to diagnose your pain. Some of the most common causes of back pain include:

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Overcoming the Back Pain and Insomnia Loop

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