You would think that sleep would be a pretty easy thing. You lie down, close your eyes, dream, and eventually you wake up refreshed to start your day. For a large portion of adults, this is not even close to reality. Many things affect our quality of sleep, so it is essential that the medical research community continue to learn more about how and why we slumber as well as how to improve the overall quality.

Writing about sleep is not new for us. In March, we covered the topic extensively for Sleep Awareness Week. In this post we discussed new research about recommended sleep durations for various age groups. We shared a number of other studies about sleep as well. It’s an important topic to cover, especially for pain patients.

New studies are developed and published all the time, so let’s take a closer look at some of the more recent publications.

Are computers reducing the quality of sleep for children?

In March of 2014, a study was published by Iowa State University that linked computer usage and media exposure to sleep in children. When parents limit their children’s use of computers or television there can be a major change in overall behavior. Children with limited screen time get more sleep and perform better in school. Of course, there is always a catch. These benefits are not immediate nor are they visible so parents aren’t always as concerned about the implications and don’t find it an important thing to monitor.

The issue: these benefits are actually seen in the absence of certain behaviors and physical changes. Because you can’t see that they’re happening, they are a non-issue for many parents. For example, children who have their computer usage monitored are less likely to gain weight and it is much more difficult to see the absence of a problem as tangible.

Experts are not suggesting that parents completely restrict the use of computers and other media sources, but better monitoring can be helpful in very small ways. When screen time is limited children get better quality of sleep which, in turn, improves their performance in school and their overall health and wellbeing.

Negative feelings could be caused by late nights

Here is a sobering thought. What if a negative attitude could be eliminated with an earlier bedtime? Researchers at Binghamton University proposed this very idea in a study published in December. It has long been understood that there is a link between repetitive negative thinking and sleep problems. People affected by pessimism also feel like they have no control over their thoughts. They worry about the future, fret about the past, and can’t stop intrusive thoughts from plaguing their minds. These negative thoughts are common among people with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety.

In a study conducted at the university, the researchers found that people who have these persistent negative thoughts go to bed later and get less restorative sleep than their positive counterparts. But what if it isn’t the negative thoughts causing sleep disruption but the timing of sleep that causes the negative thoughts? So, could a possible treatment for these conditions be a better night’s sleep?

Pain may be largest contributor to poor sleep

The National Sleep Foundation released the results of a new poll in March that indicates pain is at the top of the list for many U.S. citizens when it comes to sleep issues. The poll measured the difference between the amount of sleep adults said they need versus the amount they were actually getting. Acute pain accounted for a 14-minute sleep debt while chronic pain caused nearly 45 minutes of additional sleeplessness. People without any reported pain indicated no sleep debt at all.

Pain is just one of three issues that seem to affect sleep. The others are stress and poor health. For individuals who make sleep a priority these factors are reduced or eliminated altogether. Also contributing to the decrease in quality sleep is the worry that pain will cause a decrease in quality sleep. However, people who experience pain also cite environmental excuses for their lack of sleep including noise, light, temperature, and their bed. This suggests that simple fixes may help in some cases.

Researchers concluded that people who make sleep a priority experience better overall quality of their health. Sleep quality helped overall even for people who indicated they experienced pain but focused on their sleep cycles as a priority.

Small sleep debts also increase other risks

In another study in March the Endocrine Society determined that as little as 30 minutes less sleep a night can result in more issues with weight, metabolism, and high blood sugar. Such a small amount of lost sleep can have a gargantuan impact on the way the body processes insulin.

Due to busy schedules during the week, most people fall into the habit of getting less sleep Monday through Friday but sleeping in on the weekends. But sleeping a few extra hours on the weekend may not be enough to restore the damage caused by not getting enough sleep throughout the week. Researchers believe that this sleep debt may contribute to type-2 diabetes.

When you compare this study with the one above regarding sleep debt and pain it is no wonder that many people who experience chronic pain are also at higher risk of developing additional conditions such as diabetes, which can lead to a larger pain cycle that is harder to control.

Of course, these studies are only a few and new information is being released all the time regarding sleep patterns, pain, and chronic conditions. To learn more about sleep, why we do it, and its overall implications on our health, we suggest you watch some of these TED Talks on the subject.

How has sleep, or the lack of it, affected your health?

Image by glasseyes view via Flickr


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