Living With Chronic Pain

Warm Hands and Feet Help To Decrease Pain and Improve Sleep

I don’t know about you, but I hurt more when it’s cold. It’s an ache that penetrates deep into my bones. The only way to relieve it is through a hot bath, getting warmed up through exercise, jumping into bed wrapped in my heating blanket, or adding multiple layers.
So many who suffer from chronic pain are off worse in the cold and rainy months. There are many theories that explain what we already know to be true.

1) Tissues in our joints shrink in colder temperatures. This then causes the nerves in those joints to pull on nerve endings, resulting in the perception of pain. 

2) In order to explain whole body aches, studies look to those with auto immune diseases to better understand how pain interacts with already-existing concerns. It appears that sensors in those already experiencing pain may be more sensitive to temperature shifts.

3) Pain itself may make us more sensitive. For example, when we have a traumatic injury, such as a fractured bone, sensors pick up on the chemicals that are released and tell us a trauma has occurred. This may make the sensors in that area more sensitive to any change, thus causing it to hurt more in the colder weather.

4) Cold causes our blood vessels to constrict, forcing our bodies to prioritize blood flow to our vital organs. Decreased circulation to the extremities makes our skin more rigid than normal, which can cause more pressure on already sensitive nerves. 

5) Some research suggests that cold receptor channels are directly linked to pain receptors in ways heat receptors are not.

Most people agree- we feel better when we are warm. Now that the winter months are upon, us I feel that deep ache even more. And sleeping? I recently realized an already difficult time sleeping is made far worse by cold hands and feet.

Studies also show that heating our extremities causes dilation of the blood vessels, which not only brings necessary nutrients, oxygen and blood flow to areas of inflammation, but also tells the brain it’s time to sleep. After blood vessels open in our hands and feet, the brain then distributes heat throughout the body in preparation for sleep. Keeping our feet warm has been shown to decrease restless nights and allows us to fall asleep quicker. All imperative to that good night’s rest we all know is required to enhance the coming day. 

Our circadian rhythm also impacts core temperature, which ultimately controls the timing of sleep. Body temperature increases during the day, peaks in the afternoon when we feel most alert, and drops by 1-2 degrees at night as a means to conserve energy. This is why we feel drowsy, the body is preparing us to shut down and rest. Socks may actually help regulate these temperature cycles.

To add to the benefits, it’s also been found that wearing socks at night helps hot flashes by cooling the body’s core temperature, improves dry feet by retaining our natural moisturizers and even increases orgasms. Sound crazy? According to the BBC, scientists accidentally discovered that wearing socks increased participants’ ability to achieve an orgasm by 30%. Chinese medicine has always believed that cold feet drains energy and can obstruct our Qi or life force and blood flow from circulating. Cold impedes the flow of energy and warmth encourages it.

So which socks are best? Really, anything works- I use my stash of mismatched, silly holiday or frayed socks I’d never wear in public. I love my fuzzy and lightweight fleece ones. But, make sure they are clean so grime and sweat don’t encourage athletes foot, and that they don’t compress the feet and ankles.

Some experts recommend only natural fibers so they can breathe. If they tend to roll off by morning, add a touch of latex. When really cold, try a wool pair for added warmth.

Can’t imagine wearing socks to bed? How about:

  • Increase the blankets at the end of the bed so only your feet stay extra warm and cozy.
  • Use a homemade heat pack to warm your feet.
  • Use socks or slippers or a hot bath just before crawling into bed so you to start with warm feet. Better yet, throw a pair of socks in the dryer and wear them right up to bedtime.
  • Give yourself a foot massage.
  • Add a circulatory boost by rubbing your feet with a capsaicin cream to increase blood flow.

And it’s not only our feet that help us to sleep better and decrease pain, warming our hands accelerates the process even further. Our bodies react to cold by redirecting blood supply to vital organs and away from the extremities. Keeping hands and feet warm ensures everything stays toasty.

Here are a few more ways to stay warm and improve sleep: 

  • Use layers of clothing, but also layer blankets since the layers will trap the warm air better than one thick comforter. They also allow for more maneuverability. For those who toss and turn a lot it increases the chance at least one will still be on in the morning.
  • Wear gloves. Not big bulky ones but the type that are thin and insulating- just enough to warm but not produce sweat. When gloves get wet they transfer heat to the air. Make sure they are not too tight, you still want warm air to be able to circulate within them.
  • Keep your nighttime attire from tip to toes. Wear long sleeves and pajamas to bed to minimize letting cold air in and still let the warm air circulate below the covers. 
  • When all else fails, wiggle your fingers and toes. This will stimulate blood flow as well.

All I know is when my feet and hands are warm I feel and sleep better. My dogs must too, since burrowing under the blankets is an essential part of their sleeping regimen as well.


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