Why We Experience Pain When Sleeping

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If you experience discomfort throughout the night, it may be intermittent pain or a constant dull ache that prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling demotivated, tired and grumpy for several days and this can lead to a vicious cycle of poor sleep and unproductive days.

Pain can be experienced for a number of different reasons:

1: We move less when we sleep. All the joints in the body are designed to move and when we sleep in a fixed position this can create joint stiffness, soft tissue tightening and reduce blood flow to the structures that allow movement. While rest is important to allow the body to recover, too much sleep can heighten pain.

2: Are you sleeping in a neutral position? I carefully selected the word ‘neutral’ and not ‘normal’ as everyone has a different neutral for their body which is normal for them! Some people may have a bigger curve in their lower back (known as lordosis) others may have more rounded shoulders.

Usain Bolt has scoliosis (curvature of the spine. This hasn’t stopped him being the fastest man alive!). The concern is not about your body being normal – rather, the concern is being neutral. This means that your spine doesn’t excessively bend to one side. Nor does one leg rotate inwards compared to the other, or even one arm being bent back under your pillow. Odd sleeping positions can definitely cause pain. A common cause of neck pain is using the wrong number of pillows which create too much flexion in one side of the neck.

3: Consider the wider picture! While pain may be experienced within the joints and soft tissues of the body, pain is directly influenced by the limbic system in the brain, which has the ability to make pain feel more or less intense. The limbic system is responsible for controlling our emotions and feelings. For decades, researchers have emphasized that pain feels worse if we’ve had a bad day. Going to bed stressed, angry or feeling any strong negative emotion can affect the quality of your sleep and can cause you to feel more pain.

4: Non-mechanical pain: Pain at night may not be caused by a mechanical stimulus. This means that the muscles, skeletal system and other structures like tendons and bursa may not directly be the cause of night pain. Lots of medical conditions can impact the quality of your sleep – for example, IBS or the common cold. While the majority of these causes are not serious, if your pain is severe in nature or hasn’t cleared for a while, and is not mechanical, then please see your GP to ensure it’s nothing more serious.

If you need any help or advice with managing your pain, give us a call or why not book a 30-minute Discovery Session.  It’s only £10 and one of our physios will carry out a thorough assessment to help identify the cause of your pain.

Call us on 01285 654059 or email hello@marklandclinic.com

Thank you for reading,

Dale Turner

Physiotherapist at the Markland Clinic

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