Have you ever noticed that when you sleep, you do not feel pain? As I was writing some of these articles, I remembered a handful of times where my back hurt, or something hurt, but seemed to go away when I slept. This got me thinking about if you can feel pain while sleeping. I am sure whatever is painful has not actually gone way, does our brain ignore it?
If you make it to REM sleep, then no, you cannot feel existing pain while asleep. New pain, or worsening pain, can snap you out of sleep and is a survival instinct you cannot turn off. More extreme pain can prevent you from sleeping at all. There are thousands of people that suffer from chronic pain from different afflictions that can prevent them from getting a good nights sleep. This can create a pain related insomnia.
Extreme and sudden pain may wake you up, but existing pain signals are usually ignored while sleeping. Your brain may be disconnected from the world while sleeping, but it can take something extreme to alert you back to reality. It is possible to be asleep and aware of your surroundings.
How are We Asleep and Aware?
Even though our brain emits delta waves and disconnects the sensory neurons that are responsible for pain signals to travel through, or brain still maintains some sense of awareness of the outside world. The usual sensory inputs get ignored, but new nociceptive pain can immediately break our sleep cycle and put the body into an alert status. It is a survival tool that most mammals use to protect us from predators during our sleep.
Nociceptive pain is pain created by chemicals, pressure, or thermal changes to your body. This type of pain is usually well localized and centralized in pain, think your arm falling off the side of the bed and slapping the bed frame, or maybe your child or partner turning over and laying on your arm.
Loud and sudden noises can wake you from this sleep as well, such as a cat knocking over the lamp on the nightstand. These are part of the survival instinct that should always be in use while sleeping. If these types of pain or noises do not wake you up, then you need to speak with your Doctor as soon as possible since your body is not alert to potential dangers while sleeping.
How the Muscles are Paralyzed While Sleeping
During Slow Wave Sleep and REM Sleep, your eyes move around while your body does not. At this time, your body disconnects your limbs to prevent yourself from injury while dreaming since some dreams can be extremely vivid.
Two different chemicals in your brain work together to achieve this goal of paralyzing your muscles. These two chemicals are called gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine. To keep it in simple talk, it has been proven in rats that these chemicals caused sleep paralysis by disengaging certain cells in the brain that kept your muscles active while awake.
Paralyzing your muscles during sleep is for your own safety. During the dream states, you can experience very real feeling dreams. If your muscles were still connected during these dreams, there would be nothing stopping you from running in bed! Crazy thought, I know.
Imagine a sleeping dog that starts making whimpering noises then seems to start moving their legs. Same technique is going on there except human brains are better at shutting down your muscles while sleeping.
While paralyzed, pain receptors are disconnected so only new or sudden pain can be felt. This is good for people with small aches and pains to get some sleep.
How Pain Interrupts Your Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, two our of three people with chronic pain have a pain induced insomnia. This type of pain can bring new stimulation to the brain and can interrupt your sleep patterns. If pain is not allowing you to sleep, it can cause more pain related issues and a disruption in your REM sleep patterns. That is not a good thing.
It has been shown that people that suffer from sleep deprivation are more sensitive to pain. No one has a definitive reason why this is, but it has shown true in studies. So having pain that does not let you sleep, is not going to get any better.
If this describes you, then you need to seek medical attention. Do yourself a favor and skip the ads and other over-the-counter medications that claim otherwise, and seek real medical assistance.
Why Over-the-Counter Sleep Medications are Bad for Pain
Having a pain that can prevent you from sleeping can be a terrible situation to be in. If you are currently suffering from this, I truly feel sympathetic for you. Attempting to reach out for over-the-counter solutions may seem to work in the beginning, but can lead down a even more terrible road. Seek professional medical attention please before reaching out for these.
Sleep medications introduce drugs into your body that can create a sleepiness that can make it easy to drift asleep. These drugs can not only be abused, but can lead to death if you are not careful. While the first few times sing this as a solution seems like a great solution to your sleep problems, it can cause a chemical dependence where you become addicted to the medications in order to get to sleep. This further encourages abuse and this kind of abuse can lead to more deadly outcomes.
If you are experiencing a pain that is not allowing you to sleep, please, reach out to a medical professional and trust what they recommend. During my research, I have found a great many products and advertisers promising you some type of relief for this situation. Understand that they are spending money to reach you to buy their product. It is just product marketing. See a doctor and ask him/her what is best.
I refuse to link to any of these sites as I do not want to market these products to my readers. If you decide to ignore my advice and reach out for these medications, you can google them yourself.
The Best Way to Get to Sleep When in Pain
Even the smallest of pains can stop you from getting to sleep. What makes it worse, is that it is harder to focus on something else when the house is quiet and you have nothing to focus on but the pain. Following the usual nightly routine may not be enough to grab some snooze time when you have some type of pain going on.
For most people, there is a nightly routine before you go to bed. Changes will have to be made to this routine if you suffer from a chronic pain that inhibits your regular sleep cycle. Laying down in bed and staring at the ceiling until you fall asleep does not work with pain. In this case, you might as well stay up until you are sleepy. Yes, staying up will help you sleep better!
Try these tips to get some great sleep when you are suffering from some type of pain.
- Only go to bed when you are actually tired. For most people, we have a set time that we go to bed. It is part of our internal clock to fall into the routine of having a constant bedtime. Going to bed when you are about to fall asleep anyway saves you from laying in a dark and quiet room with nothing to focus on but the pain.
- Change your Sleeping Position. If the pain is in your right arm, sleep on your left side. This will put your arm above your heart and help keep the pain at a minimum. While there may not be a way to completely eliminate the pain, we want to make it easier.
- Warm bath about an hour before bed. This will help relax your muscles and help you fall asleep faster. Regardless of what others say, do not hop out of a hot bath and right into bed. The covers on your bed will trap in all of that extra heat and can make you more uncomfortable than you think. Give your body time to relax while it acclimates to a lower room temperature before hopping into bed.
I wish there was a “one-size fits all” method to sleeping with some type of pain, but there isn’t. Try these tips and let me know what has helped you the most in the comments.
Can you feel pain while sleeping? New pain, yes. Sleep can ignore some smaller pain that you may suffer from. Yes, your brain is still aware of its surroundings to an extent, but for the most part, it tunes out most stimuli while sleeping. The brain is equipped with an alert system of sorts for survival reasons, that why new pain and other physical interactions can wake you up.
Taking drugs to cope with pain that can prevent you from sleeping seems like the easy way. This can lead to addictions and further problems down the road. If you suffer from some type of pain that is preventing you from a good nights sleep, please, reach out to a medical professional. Your body needs a great night sleep every now and then to function properly. If medication is the only way, please be sure is is professionally prescribed.
There are a few medical conditions that can have enough pain that can prevent your body from sleeping properly. These can be treated with prescriptions from your doctor, mostly. Please do not self medicate.