You Likely Sleep Less if Your Partner Suffers from Chronic Pain

A recent small study has suggested that when an individual is suffering from chronic pain – in the case of the study, it was in the knee joint – the quality of his or her partner’s sleep will suffer. The research was conducted by a team in Pennsylvania who were investigating whether or not chronic illness plays a role in the amount of sleep that a person’s partner will receive, as they feel that sleep is vital to good physical health.

Sleep and Chronic Pain Study

The couples that participated in the study were asked a number of questions regarding their sleep quality as well as about the rest of their relationship. They targeted the issue of rest because they felt that if a person’s sleep was compromised because of the discomforts of their partners, it could help to explain why spousal caregivers have an increased risk of a number of different medical issues.

According to Lynn Martire, from the Penn State University department of human development and family studies, “Compromised sleep caused by exposure to a loved one’s suffering may be one pathway to spousal caregivers’ increased risk of health problems including cardiovascular disease.” This was the conclusion that Martire and her co-authors expressed in the publication of their study in the Pain journal.

How Does a Partner’s Pain Harm Sleep

She went on to say that the findings from the sleep study indicated that chronic pain in one partner could place the other partner’s health at risk and indicates that interventions for couples – as opposed to only the partner with the chronic condition – may be an important way to proceed.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that this was still considered to be quite a small study and further research is required before the results can be considered conclusive. It included the participation of 138 knee osteoarthritis patients and their partners, who had been together for an average of 34 years. Each couple was interviewed, and they completed diaries for three weeks regarding their moods and their sleep patterns.

The researchers found that the greater the amount of pain that the person experienced in their knee, the poorer the overall quality of sleep for the partner. The researchers found that the most obvious part of that issue is that the pain of the patient disturbs his or her own sleep, which can then take away from the sleep of his or her spouse. However, even when that factor had been accounted for by the researchers, it was still observed that there was a larger impact on the spouse’s sleep than simply reacting to restlessness.

Moreover, the spouses who had symptoms of negative moods and depression at the time that they woke up were those that had a greater likelihood of suffering from poorer sleep quality and a less restful sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

Without sleep, both partners in a relationship can start to experience unwanted mental and physical health symptoms.  Although sleepiness in the daytime is an obvious symptom, there are many others that are also very common. These include:

  • Moodiness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Yawning
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Inability to focus or feeling “fuzzy”
  • Clumsiness
  • Increased appetite, particularly for carbohydrates
  • Decreased sex drive

Lost sleep from chronic pain can also lead to more complex health issues such as:

  • A weakened immune system and a raised risk of infection
  • An increased risk of chronic infection or disease
  • A raised chance of advanced respiratory illness
  • An increase in fast storage leading to weight gain
  • Heightened blood pressure and inflammation leading to cardiovascular problems
  • Hormone imbalances in both men and women.


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