To Your Health
December, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 12)
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Medicine bottle - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark How Pain, Stress and Medication Affect Sleep

The sensation of pain is very powerful and affects the normal process of sleep. When you're in pain, it can be difficult to sleep due to the constant stimulation to your nervous system. Billions of dollars have been spent trying to control pain to allow someone to receive a normal night's sleep. Significant numbers of individuals attempt to self-medicate or mix medications in an attempt to achieve sleep, which can have dangerous consequences.

When we sleep, our body breaks down various chemicals and forms a major sleep chemical known as serotonin. The activity of serotonin can be blocked by high levels of cortisol. Our bodies produce cortisol in direct relationship to the amount of stress we are under. Cortisol works as a very slow adrenaline and its presence will elevate the heart rate and mental alertness at all times of the day and night.

Prozac is a commonly prescribed anti-depressant drug that works by making your nerves more sensitive to serotonin. Many doctors will prescribe antidepressants long-term, which can lead to a hypersensitivity to serotonin. This is scientifically called serotonin syndrome, symptoms of which include changes in mental status (confusion, agitation, mania, anxiety, coma), cardiovascular dysfunction (irregular heartbeat, high or low blood pressure), gastrointestinal problems (nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, excessive appetite, cravings), movement problems (muscle spasms, muscle rigidity, restlessness, tremors, shaking, lack of coordination, shivering, seizures), dry mouth, unusual sweating, and flu symptoms, just to mention a few. These symptoms will definitely not help you sleep.

11 Ways to Get a Great Night's Sleep

  1. Woman sleeping - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Limit exercise and other stressful activities immediately before bedtime.
  2. Remove all distractions from the bedroom that could keep you from sleeping.
  3. Organize your life so you can get to bed at a consistent time each night.
  4. Sleep on a regular schedule: 4.5, 6, 7.5 or nine hours is ideal because it marks the completion of a sleep cycle.
  5. Buy a pedestal fan to help you sleep deeply; point it at your face (not too close to cause sinus problems).
  6. Make sure your bed, mattress and pillow are comfortable enough to sleep through the night.
  7. Don't drink liquids so close to bedtime that you need to get up in the middle of the night.
  8. If you need to fall asleep to TV, music or with lights on, program a sleep timer so they'll go off at a certain time.
  9. Minimize or eliminate medication use for pain/sleep/depression if possible.
  10. Use natural supplements (only if needed and with advice from your doctor).
  11. If you're experiencing sleep problems, talk to your doctor and keep a sleep journal for a few weeks.

David Ryan, BS, DC, a former two-sport professional athlete with more than 20 years in the health care field, is on the editorial review board of Muscle & Fitness magazine and is a chief feature writer for He has been the medical director and co-chairman of the Arnold [Schwarzenegger] Sports Festival since 1997.