If you’re having prolonged sleep troubles, you may be 150% more likely to experience back pain. Among women, the correlation between insomnia and back pain is even higher.
We’ve long known that insomnia increases a person’s sensitivity to pain in general, but a new study from the University of Haifa in Israel was the first to discover such a strong correlation between insomnia and back pain specifically.
The study was well designed. Over 2,000 healthy, working adults came in for routine physical exams at the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv at three intervals over the course of eight years. On average, they were 46 years old and worked about 9½ hours a day. Insomnia was assessed using the first five questions of the Athens Insomnia Scale, which asks patients to respond on a scale of 1(never) to 7 (always) to questions including whether they are able to fall asleep or stay asleep, wake too early in the morning, have sufficient sleep time, and whether they feel they have good quality sleep overall. Insomnia was defined as sleep disturbances lasting longer than one month. Back pain was defined for the study as consistent back pain for over three months, as reported by the patient in a medical interview, and as confirmed by a medical record of a visit to a physician at least once in the last 12 months for this reason. The study controlled for variables including socioeconomic status and lifestyle behaviors (including self-reported hours of strenuous leisure time and physical activity per week, and whether or not they were smokers). Only those participants with no known health problems were included in the final result.
The study leaders noted that the connection is complex and merits further study: “One possible link is stress; people suffering from insomnia generally describe their lives as stressful, so it’s almost certain that they would suffer from chronic restlessness that will increase muscle tension and reduce the number of micro-pauses in muscle activity, which leads to back pain.”
How does this study affect Spine & Nerve Center patients?
If you are a patient of Spine & Nerve Diagnostic Center, it’s highly likely that you are, unfortunately, already acquainted with back pain. But it’s important to consider, too, that caregivers of those with serious medical conditions also experience poor sleep because they wake in the night due to their loved ones’ inability to sleep. Even if they sleep 7-8 hours per night, if they are routinely awakened, the quality of sleep is poor and can lead to serious health problems.
The National Institute of Health publishes a very informative brochure on sleep, which you can access here: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf. The brochure provides many helpful tips for better rest, and includes a sample sleep diary. If you are concerned about whether you or your loved ones are getting enough quality sleep, consider keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks and sharing it with your primary care physician to help improve your sleep and, by extension, your overall long-term health.