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Sleep and its Impact on Pain

British researchers have just published the results of a study that they conducted on over 4,300 adults over the age of fifty, and their findings point to another risk that comes with not getting adequate sleep as we get older. According to their study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, the scientists were able to determine that when patients reported that the sleep that they got was nonrestorative, they were more likely to experience widespread body pain. Nonrestorative sleep is defined as sleep that does not give any kind of relief for tiredness and which leaves people still feeling worn out afterwards. Widespread body pain is the type that is felt over multiple body parts, such as is experienced from fibromyalgia or the flu. 

The study examined over 4,300 people over the age of fifty over a three year period of time. Over the course of the three-year period, nearly twenty percent of the participants reported having developed some kind of widespread pain. As more and more of them experienced either muscle, bone or nerve pain, the authors of the study examined all of the different aspects and variables that had also developed that might have contributed to their increased pain or made it worse. Their analysis showed that not getting enough restorative sleep was the strongest single predictor of this type of pain being experienced, and that getting restorative sleep was a crucial factor in eliminating pain.

This study, when examined in conjunction with previous studies on the impact of sleep on both pain and depression, is yet another reason to ensure that as people age they get the proper amount of sleep. There is an old wive’s tale that indicates that as people age they do not need enough sleep, but studies have shown that this is not case – though older people may get tired earlier and awaken earlier, they still require roughly the same amount of sleep, but it becomes more difficult for them to get it. The importance of getting enough sleep is not only a matter of quantity, but also of quality. People need to be able to get restorative sleep in order for the body to properly heal itself, set crucial memories and process the information that has been learned during the day.

There are a number of different factors that can play a role in senior citizens not getting enough quality sleep, but one of the key factors is the fact that as people age and retire from their work life, they often abandon their previously established routines and schedules. The absence of a well-established routine is a major contributor to elderly adults not being able to fall asleep easily or to awaken at a set time – it also causes interrupted sleep at night.

This points to the importance of maintaining a daily routine in order to enable not only a better night’s sleep, but for the reciprocal prevention of increased pain or depression that often accompanies insufficient sleep.

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