If you are suffering from pain, insufficient sleep can delay your recovery and even make your pain worse.

Eight-nine hours of sleep is considered ideal for most adults.  Anything less than this, especially if your body is already compromised with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, or other systemic disease will make matters worse.

Insufficient sleep raises cortisol levels.  Cortisol is the hormone secreted by your adrenal glands (above kidneys) and is involved in a number of physiological functions including stress response, mood, and metabolism.  When cortisol levels remain abnormally high, it drives blood glucose levels up and suppresses insulin sensitivity of cells prolonging the high glucose levels.  This is how sleep deprivation promotes obesity.

Insufficient sleep also abnormally lowers the satiety hormone leptin and raises the hunger hormone ghrelin.  This combination leads to overeating.  In one study involving rats, sleep deprivation delayed healing of burn injuries in the sleep-deprived rats.

But perhaps the most dangerous thing sleep deprivation can cause is increased systemic inflammation.  Inflammation is your body’s way of quarantining an injury site and healing injured tissue.  But if it is ongoing and present throughout the body in small amounts, it can damage blood vessels, nerves and other tissues.

On June 22, 2002, researchers at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society held in San Francisco reported that sleep deprivation markedly increases inflammatory cytokines. This finding helps explain why pain flare-up occurs in response to lack of sleep in a variety of disorders. According to the researchers, even modest sleep restriction adversely affects hormone and cytokine levels.   In a carefully controlled study, sleep deprivation caused a 40% to 60% average increase in the inflammatory marker IL-6 in men and women, while men alone showed a 20% to 30% increase in TNF-a.  Both IL-6 and TNF are potent pro-inflammatory cytokines that induce systemic inflammation (Vgontzas et al. 1999; Vgontzas et al. 2001).

Interleukin-6, Tumor necrosing factor alpha, and C-reactive protein– these are the inflammatory markers that can be measured by a blood test.   Get yours checked if you haven’t done so.  Studies show that high levels are associated with heart disease, diabetes, stroke and early death.  TNF-a especially attacks cartilage and bone and is found in high quantities in persons suffering from arthritis.

Life Extension provides the following nutritional interventions that one can use to counteract systemic inflammation:

  • The docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) fraction of fish oil may be the most effective nonprescription nutrient to suppress pro-inflammatory cytokines (it’s best to get concentrated EPA-DHA fish oil for this purpose).
  • Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is a precursor of PGE1, a potent anti-inflammatory agent.
  • DHEA is a hormone that decreases with age. DHEA has been shown to suppress IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine that often increases as people age. Typical doses of DHEA are 25-50 mg daily, although some people take 100 mg daily.
  • Nettle leaf has been shown to suppress the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-a. Take 1000 mg daily.
  • Vitamin E and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) are protective antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin E that contains gamma-tocopherol and tocotrienols provides the most broad-spectrum protection. NAC is an amino acid with antiviral and liver protectant properties. Six hundred milligrams daily is recommended.
  • Vitamin K helps reduce levels of IL-6, a pro-inflammatory messenger. Vitamin K also helps in the treatment of osteoporosis by regulating calcium and promoting bone calcification.  If you are taking Coumadin or other anticoagulant medicine, consult your physician before taking vitamin K.
  • Consuming at least 1000 mg per day of carnosine and/or 300 mg of the European drug aminoguanidine can inhibit pathological glycation reactions in the body.

Also, avoid eating foods that are cooked at high temperatures, as they tend to form advanced glycated end-products, or AGE.  These are basically denatured proteins that can accumulate in your tissues and promote inflammation.  Food that this pertains to are deep fried foods, junk foods/ chips cooked at high temperature, and charred foods from barbecuing.

Back to the point– make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep daily, especially if you suffer from back pain, neck pain, herniated discs, and post-surgical pain.  Insufficient sleep can interfere with healing by raising inflammatory cytokines in your bloodstream, which may also increase pain levels.

If you have difficulty sleeping, here are some suggestions:

  • Avoid watching and reading emotional content (news on TV, newspaper, internet, emails).  Better yet, unplug everything electronic 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Take a walk in nature frequently where there is no noise pollution
  • If you’re hungry around bed time, avoid eating anything with carbs or sugar; stick with protein (whey smoothie, plain Greek yogurt, boiled egg).
  • Read a book or listen to relaxing music.
  • Practice deep breathing and meditating
  • Do high intensity interval training 3-4 hours before bed time
  • Practice present-time consciousness (turn off stray thoughts, focus on the present moment)
  • If you have trouble sleeping, keep your eyes open and let yourself get drowsy
  • Make sure your room is completely dark, with no ambient light entering; make sure you have fresh air ventilating through
  • Move all electrical devices (alarm clock, cell phone, etc.) far away from your head
  • If you always have to get up to go to the bathroom, avoid drinking water 2 hours before bed (drink an adequate amount before then to get hydrated).
  • Try listening to hypnosis sleep recordings

That’s it, happy dreams and less pain!



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