The importance of a good night of sleep cannot be underestimated. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased obesity and body fat, a compromised immune system, and serious chronic illness such as diabetes. It has even been used as a torture technique. A full night’s rest is essential to help your body rejuvenate and repair. If you are suffering from chronic pain, a solid rest every night is crucial to helping to manage your pain. Here is how sleep works to keep you healthy and how the research on chronic pain and sleep deprivation is showing how lack of sleep can actually make pain worse. (Plus, ten tips to improve your sleep hygiene to get the shut-eye you need!)

The research on chronic pain and sleep deprivation

Lack of sleep has been tied to poor performance on the job and slow reflexes behind the wheel (nearly as dangerous as driving drunk), but new research is finding that getting a full night of shut-eye can not only help you be more alert but can also help reduce inflammation and pain.

Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences, found that treating insomnia in the elderly could lead to reduced inflammation and chronic pain. The study of 123 adults found that those who were successfully treated for insomnia had a lower level of C-reactive protein (CRP). This is an identified marker of inflammation. When someone is suffering from an attack of inflammation, CRP levels rise. Adults over 55 who were treated for insomnia had continued low levels of this protein. This was even almost a year and a half into the study. They also had lower levels of pain.

Michael Irwin, first author and a professor of psychiatry and director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior believes that these findings further cement sleep’s importance:

“To advance public health, these findings prominently emphasize the position of sleep among the three pillars of health — diet, exercise and sleep…if insomnia is untreated and sleep disturbance persists, we found that CRP levels progressively increase… these findings indicate that it is even more critical to treat insomnia in this population who are already at elevated risk for aging-related inflammatory disease.”

Fatigue and pain

Fatigue can also exacerbate chronic pain, making it difficult for those suffering to exercise or be active during the day. A study from University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology, published in PLoS One, found that helping pain patients sleep well helped managed pain related to poor sleep. Dr. Nicole Tang, lead-author of the study noted that:

“Engaging in physical activity is a key treatment process in pain management. Very often, clinicians would prescribe exercise classes, physiotherapy, walking and cycling programmes as part of the treatment, but who would like to engage in these activities when they feel like a zombie?”

The sleep-pain cycle

Another study published in Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), als