Your body has a sort of biological clock that controls internal processes such as sleep, and this mechanism is referred to as circadian rhythm (CR). It’s no secret that your natural sleep patterns can be affected by things such as daylight savings time or jet lag from flying between time zones, but new research suggests spine injuries may also affect CR. This added knowledge about how such injuries may affect sleep patterns could have a beneficial impact on treatment recommendations and, ultimately, quality of life.
Previous research involving people with spinal cord injuries suggests they sometimes have difficulty regulating their internal body temperature. This problem can reduce the body’s ability to prevent infections. The new study, conducted on rats with spinal cord injuries, looked at various bodily functions in the test animals. Specifically, researchers focused on:
• Body temperature
• Levels of stress hormones
• Activity levels
• Expression of genes that control CR
The study’s lead author points out that every cell in the human body has its own molecular clock. What researchers wanted to know was how spine injuries affected these special internal clocks and the other internal processes (“mediators”) that also affect cells’ molecular clocks.
When they looked at the results from the study, researchers discovered the body’s internal processes related to circadian rhythm were disrupted immediately after spine injuries occurred. However, CR slowly improved over the next few weeks after the initial injury was sustained.
Even though the disruptions to circadian rhythm slowly improved, the tested animals still experienced significant sleep disruptions. One week post-injury, researchers observed that circadian rhythms peaked during periods when the test subjects were sleeping and not during periods of activity.
The rats with spinal cord injuries also had sleep difficulties because of body temperature disruptions. The researchers discovered the rats had body temperatures higher than what’s considered normal during periods of sleep. These higher body temperatures then made it difficult for the tested animals to either get to sleep or stay asleep.
Once the body’s circadian rhythm gets “off schedule,” other processes can be affected as well. The result is something of a domino effect: internal clock disruptions may make it difficult for the body to properly heal and recover after a spine-related injury. The good news is that this type of research can be used to adjust treatment plans for individuals with spine injuries, including patients who are recovering from surgical procedures such as back fusion alternatives. Los Angeles patients may ultimately be able to recover more quickly and with greater comfort if treatment methods are able to incorporate this research into real-world applications.
While it’s not clear how well this new circadian rhythm research involving spine injuries will translate to humans, the findings do suggest that spinal injuries may take more of a toll on the human body than what was previously believed, at least when it comes to sleep patterns. In fact, as this type of research continues, treatments commonly used for people with sleep disorders, such as chronotherapy, may eventually become complementary treatments for spinal cord injury patients with sleep problems.
If you’ve had any kind of injury to your back or neck, don’t wait—see your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon right away to get properly diagnosed and begin treatment. For the finest in spinal care, turn to the industry-leading physicians at The Spine Institute. We have years of experience in using the most innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology to diagnose and treat every source of back and neck pain. Call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule your consultation.