03/28/2014 08:20 am ET Updated Mar 28, 2014

The Key To Helping Chronic Pain Sufferers Get More Exercise

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Exercise is important in managing pain for people with chronic pain, and a new study shows that sleep could play an important role in keeping people with the condition active.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, shows that sleep is associated with physical activity for people with chronic pain, with sleep better predicting levels of next-day physical activity than pain intensity or mood in the morning.

"The research points to sleep as not only an answer to pain-related insomnia but also as a novel method to keep sufferers physically active, opening a new avenue for improving the quality of life of chronic pain sufferers," study researcher Dr. Nicole Tang, of the University of Warwick, said in a statement.

The study included 119 chronic pain patients who wore accelerometers to measure their physical activity around the clock for a week. They also completed sleep diaries and reported their sleep quality every morning.

Researchers found an association between reports of higher sleep quality and increased physical activity in the second half of the day (from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

Interestingly, researchers did not find that sleep efficiency was associated with physical activity the next day. "This pattern of findings underscore the qualitative difference between the two sleep parameters, and it seems plausible that a person’s subjective perception of their sleep quality carries a stronger influence on subsequent physical activity than their objective sleep experience," they wrote in the study.

Morning pain and morning mood were also not found to be associated with next-day physical activity.

Overall, the findings suggest "a naturally energizing function of sleep and highlights the often-overlooked continuity between nighttime sleep and daytime physical activity," researchers wrote. "Existing strategies for promoting physical activity tend to focus on actions during the day. Additional efforts in promoting sleep among physically inactive subgroups may increase the overall impact of these interventions."