Senior Asian woman with sore and muscle pain from laptop use in bed

The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Sleep Disorders

Almost 20% of Canadians are living with chronic pain.

If you fall into that category, you know how debilitating it can be. You’ve tried everything you can think of to be able to live a normal, pain-free life, but nothing seems to work.

If you have a condition like sleep apnea or UARS (upper airway resistance syndrome), your lack of sleep may be worsening your pain.

How are sleep disorders tied to chronic pain?

Poor sleep can predispose you to chronic pain. In a 2019 study, researchers scanned the brains of 25 healthy adults two times: the first after they had a full eight hour sleep and the second after they were kept awake for 24-48 hours. The participants were subjected to uncomfortable levels of heat on their legs.

When the group was sleep deprived, researchers saw a 120% increase in somatosensory cortex (the part of the brain that processes pain, touch, and temperature) activity.

If you’re still not convinced that sleep disorders and chronic pain are connected, consider the fact that sleep disturbances, including sleep apnea, are present in 67-88% of all chronic pain cases.

If you have chronic pain, the chances of also having sleep apnea are significantly higher, especially if you’re a woman. If you have sleep apnea, you may be at risk of developing other unpleasant conditions such as snoring, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and being overweight.

If you have UARS, your airflow is restricted while you’re sleeping. While this is similar to what happens to people with sleep apnea, the level of resistance is lower. It has been linked with TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder) and other conditions such as fibromyalgia, especially in women.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea or UARS?

The first step is to visit a medical professional who can help you with home sleep monitoring. You can also opt for a lab-based sleep study where you’ll be monitored overnight for changes in your breathing, oxygen, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Once you’ve received your diagnoses, there are different ways to manage it. It may be as simple as changing your sleeping position, bedding, or your bedtime routine, or it may be a more significant change like:

  • Dental appliances
  • CPAP machines
  • Surgery

If you’re ready to take control of your health and stop letting your sleep disorder hold you back from doing the things you love, schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrea Stevens to learn how to get a better night’s sleep.

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