7-Sleep-and-Pain-FBPatients often don’t realize the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. When you are tired, little things irritate you more and often people channel their stress into muscular tightness. In patients with low back or neck issues, this tightness can translate into an increase in pain.

An article in the Economist (April 23rd 2016 issue), summarized a study by Dr Yuka Sasaki from Brown University detailing the “first night” effect. People often experience trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar environment; think of sleeping in a hotel room for the first time. But why?

Some animals (birds and dolphins) sleep with half their brain awake. This allows them to sleep yet be alert enough to wake up if danger is present. Dr Sasaki studied 35 people who slept in an unfamiliar environment and monitored their brains. Turns out, certain parts of their brain remained active. Based upon her work published in Current Biology, this “first night” effect acts like a night watchman to alert us to strange sounds in unfamiliar environments.

Next time you wake up feeling tired; ask yourself if anything in your sleep routine has changed? Maybe, you are experiencing some of the “first night” effect and not getting enough rest. For those people with neck or low back pain, good restful sleep is important. Make sure you minimize any change to your sleep routine and hopefully you can minimize the risk of low back pain associated with lack of sleep.

-Dr. Paul Saiz

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