March 4 – March 11 is national sleep awareness week. Sleep is an integral part of daily life; we will spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping. Lack of sleep can lead to enhanced pain sensitivity, increased anxiety, and reduced pain inhibition. We already know that the Western lifestyle makes it hard to get enough sleep but it also might be the time of night/day that you are trying to fall asleep.
Everyone on the planet has an internal clock that tells you when to go to bed and when to wake up. However, some people may have a predisposition to be a night owl and have an internal clock that is different than the average person. Nobel Prize winning research has found that there is a ‘night owl’ gene named CRY1. The gene is responsible for regulating the sleep/wake cycle and a mutation in the gene slows our internal clock contributing to delayed sleep phase disorder.
Many of us are guilty of watching television or looking at our phone before we go to bed. Although the CRY1 gene is not affected by light, these visual stimulants before bed make the delayed sleep phase disorder worse and can also affect sleep patterns for people without the disorder.
This gene is not the sole answer for sleep disorders but it opens the window for new research into why so many people do not sleep properly.
Here are some sleep hygiene tips while we wait for new science to be discovered:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even weekends)
Limit daytime naps
Limit caffeine after 2pm
Make the room as dark as possible
Relaxing sleep area – temperature (cool), comfortable pillow
If you are experiencing lingering pain, a better quality and longer sleep may help decrease your symptoms.
Patke, Alina et al. Mutation of the Human Circadian Clock Gene CRY1 in Familial Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. Cell 2017; 169 (2): 203 – 215.