Our society moves at a frantic pace and pulls us in a thousand different directions. Lack of sleep has become the norm and is at times even admired as a sign of commitment and dedication to family, career, and community.
While sleeping seven or eight hours seems like a waste of time to some, our bodies just aren’t designed to function at optimal levels on less sleep. Over time, body systems start to break down or malfunction, causing various health problems and contributing to existing conditions. Not sleeping enough can actually make your neuropathy pain worse.
What Happens When You Sleep?
Sleep is the body’s way of providing downtime for your conscious mind, allowing your thoughts and emotions to rest. However, the body and subconscious mind also utilize those hours of downtime to catch up on maintenance and repair. Some of the most critical functions that happen during sleep include:
- Data Processing and Storage– Everything you learned, saw, felt, touched, and experienced throughout the day needs to be cataloged and filed away in the brain supercomputer. If it isn’t, you can lose the information. That’s why people with sleep deprivation have trouble learning new things or recalling necessary details. The filing system gets messed up, and your brain doesn’t know how to find the information again when needed.
- Cleaning and Restoration– When given the proper time to work, the body is a self-repairing machine. It removes damaged cells, clears cellular waste, and builds new cells to replace the old ones. Sleep is when you create new muscle after a heavy workout. Your body also releases growth hormones that stimulate the body to make bones stronger, skin more supple, lower blood sugar levels, and boost your metabolism. Sleeping slows the aging process and helps damaged nerves heal when possible.
- Immunity– While sleeping, your body produces proteins called cytokines that attack germs and lower inflammation. The less sleep you get, the more susceptible you are to germs and disorders (like neuropathy) that are affected by inflammation throughout the body.
- Lowers Stress– The body’s stress response decreases during sleep. Cortisol (one of the major stress hormones) is necessary for many body functions. Too much cortisol causes weight gain around the belly, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, mood swings, depression, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems.
How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is the result of damaged nerves sending corrupted signals to the brain. If you can’t sleep due to nerve pain, your body does not have enough time to reset and repair itself, leading to higher stress levels and more systemic inflammation. Stress and inflammation both aggravate the nerves, making neuropathic pain more intense.
Unfortunately, neuropathic pain can make sleeping difficult, creating a vicious cycle of pain and insomnia.
Why Does Neuropathy Seem More Intense at Night?
There are several reasons why you may feel more pain at night than during the day.
- Focus– During the day, our focus is on the to-do list. Shuttling grandkids to activities, functioning at work, taking care of the home, volunteer work, reading, golfing, and other hobbies all require focus. They help you ignore the pain by redirecting your attention to other things. When you’re alone in the dark, there is little to focus on but the sensations you experience and the negative thoughts associated with them.
- Inflammation– Stress levels, certain foods, environmental contaminants, and overtaxing ourselves during the day can all increase inflammation, irritating the damaged nerves.
- Medication and Timing– Some drugs increase neuropathic pain over time. And some short-lived painkillers you might take wear out in the middle of the night.
- Temperature Changes– The ambient temperature changes at night, growing coldest just before dawn. Our body temperature drops when we get sleepy and rises as we get ready to wake up. The changing temperature may confuse the damaged nerves.
- Skin Hypersensitivity– People with hypersensitive skin can find the weight or texture of the covers on their feet and legs unbearable. Likewise, the weight of their body on the mattress can be painful if they lay still too long or roll over the wrong way. Finding the proper support, temperature, nonabrasive surface, and covers can be challenging.
The Bottom Line
Whether neuropathy is causing your insomnia or sleeplessness aggravates your neuropathy, there are ways to decrease the pain and improve your sleep. Doctors who specialize in peripheral neuropathy can help you find a balance between the two conditions so you can feel better.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article, is for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.