Can you think back to a time you were sick and noticed the pain or discomfort is more pronounced at night? New studies could explain this phenomenon.
For a long time, people have observed that chronic pain gets worse at night. People who suffer from certain conditions, like arthritis, often say that their joints swell and ache more during the night than that earlier in the day. While in the past, arthritis night aches have been chalked up to changes in temperature, new studies have shown that it’s not just the cold that’s to blame.
A recent study from France’s Lyon Neuroscience Research Center showed that pain is actually accentuated at night because of our body’s natural rhythm.
Like all living things, the human body has a rhythm of its own, like how the heart beats at the exact right time to pump out blood to sustain every cell. However, not all aspects of the Circadian rhythm of our bodies are as palpable as the heartbeat.
The sleep cycles, for example, are less felt. Nonetheless, our bodies know when we need to sleep and rest. The same goes for how we feel pain.
Pain ebbs and flows according to the Circadian rhythm. According to the study out of Lyon, the human body is most sensitive to pain or feels more pain at around 3 AM, while we feel less pain at 3 PM.
Of course, everybody’s Circadian rhythm is different. Some people are more active at night hence they’re called ‘night owls,’ while others are ‘morning larks’, and spend more time awake during the day. But a majority of people are active in the daylight.
The human Circadian rhythm is also responsible for releasing hormones that affect how we perceive pain. Cortisol, the pain inhibitor that acts as a natural painkiller, is produced less at night. Less cortisol might also be a significant factor for the body feeling chronic aches more when the sun sets.
So what do you do at night if you have chronic pain? Experts suggest two simple things:
- Before sleeping, give yourself time to unwind and relax for at least 20 minutes before sleeping. You can practice meditation to help your body calm down and switch to rest mode.
- Create the best environment for sleeping. If you have a bright bedroom, you might want to invest in black-out curtains and make sure the tv is turned off. Turn the thermostat to a temperature you feel most cozy in as well.
But what happens if the pain wakes you up in the middle of the night? Well, your body will take some time to be comfortable enough to feel drowsy, so you might want to listen to relaxing sounds. Some people find the sound of rain relaxing, or nature sounds.
There are podcasts for sleep available online too. But to go back to sleep faster, limit your exposure to blue light from your phones. So before turning in for the night, you can download your choice of relaxing music or sounds just so won’t spend more time looking for them if you’re woken up in the wee hours.