Turning back the clocks this fall might help you get an extra hour of sleep, which could help those suffering from neck pain to recover more quickly. New research, published in the Clinical Journal of Pain, found that people with poorer sleep quality are less likely to show improvements in neck pain, regardless of other factors including age, sex, depression and treatments applied.
This new study looked at 422 cases of neck pain, some chronic and some subacute, and assessed neck pain, referred pain, disability, catastrophising, depression, and sleep quality at the point that patients were recruited and three months later. Improvements in neck pain, disability and sleep quality were defined as a 30% reduction in the patient’s score at recruitment (baseline).
What Kovacs and colleagues found was that the patients who slept better at the point of recruitment had greater improvement in neck pain, but not disability, at the three month assessment. The more severe the neck pain at baseline, the greater the improvement in sleep quality over the three months. Perhaps unsurprisingly, improvements in sleep quality were associated with improvements in neck pain and disability.
Those suffering from chronic neck pain and subacute neck pain may have impaired sleep quality for a number of reasons. Neck pain can affect sleep by:
- Making it difficult to find a comfortable position in which to sleep
- Causing stress and worry over general health
- Requiring medications that adversely affect sleep
- Affecting breathing
Conversely, poor quality sleep increases sensitivity to pain and even makes it more likely that people will injure themselves through inattention. A lack of sleep can also predispose a person to unhealthy coping behaviours such as smoking, drinking, eating a poor quality diet, avoiding exercise, and overusing pain medications that may actually make pain worse in the long-run.
This kind of study serves to remind us that neck pain doesn’t exist in isolation. Getting a good night’s sleep can make a significant difference to our ability to heal well and cope with the stress of chronic pain conditions. For some people, simply choosing a better neck pain pillow can offer significant relief and improve sleep. For others, relaxation tapes, mindfulness, massage, and acupuncture can support both neck pain relief and sleep.
Kovacs FM1, Seco J, Royuela A, Melis S, Sánchez C, Díaz-Arribas MJ, Meli M, Núñez M, Rodríguez ME, Fernández C, Gestoso M, Mufraggi N, Moyá J, Rodríguez-Pérez V, Torres-Unda J, Burgos-Alonso N, Gago-Fernández I, Abraira V. Patients with Neck Pain are Less Likely to Improve if They Suffer from Poor Sleep Quality. A Prospective Study in Routine Practice. Clin J Pain. 2014 Aug 28.