Laughter Relieves Pain; Sleep Clears Mental Clutter

girl naps in a hammock“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” – Irish proverb

It’s no secret that getting a good night’s sleep leaves you feeling good and rested the next day, or that belly laughing at a friend’s joke or while watching a comedy lifts your spirits. But what are the physiological processes taking place in the body that produce these positive changes in response to sleep and laughter?

Researchers in Switzerland took on the task of understanding the effects of humor on our bodies, specifically in those who experience chronic pain. Their findings, presented at The European Pain Federation Congress in Florence, Italy, revealed that watching a funny movie and laughing has the ability to distract people from feeling pain. This heightened tolerance to pain lingered for 20 minutes following laughter, as well (Mason, 2013).

Of course, the laughter must be hearty and true, according to one of the researchers. Professor Willibald Ruch of Zurich University stressed that it must “come from the heart” to produce pain-relieving effects in the body.

“Real delight,” he said, coupled with a genuine smile that engages the mouth and the muscles around the eyes, is what has the potential to activate the release of endorphins, relieve muscular tension, and ultimately, provide respite from pain (Mason, 2013).

The best way to follow a pain-relieving laugh, according to another set of studies published in the journal Science, is with some restorative sleep. This is especially true if you’re feeling overwhelmed and bogged down by mental clutter. Researchers have discovered that not only does sleep allow the body to rest and prepare for the day to come, but it also plays a critical role in removing “potentially neurotoxic waste products” that build up in the brain while awake (Xie et al., 2013).

To shed light on the activities of the brain’s fluid-filled interstitial space, which accounts for 20% of the brain’s total volume, the researchers “injected small fluorescent tracers into the cerebrospinal fluid of anesthetized mice” (Konnikova, 2014). In doing so, they observed that during sleep, this area of the brain busies itself with removing the day’s cell waste “via specific, predictable routes” (Konnikova, 2014).

These waste products are often linked to the scattered thoughts, interactions, and anxieties of the day, and the gist is that if we don’t allow ourselves adequate sleep, they will simply remain in there, accumulating and interfering with our ability to think and act clearly during waking hours. In fact, the buildup of certain metabolites in the brain is already linked to age-related cognitive decline, such as what occurs in people with Alzheimer’s.

So the “metabolite clearance” that occurs during sleep is absolutely essential to maintaining good health and mental functioning (Xie et al., 2013). And yet, studies have shown that close to 80% of adults experience some level of sleep deprivation, and between 50 and 70 million people in the United States deal with chronic sleep issues (Konnikova, 2014).

Considering that our levels of stress and tension play a significant role in being able to achieve restful sleep at night, perhaps “a good laugh and a long sleep” are the perfect medicinal combination for whatever ails you.

References:

  1. Konnikova, M. (2014, January 11). Goodnight. Sleep clean. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/opinion/sunday/goodnight-sleep-clean.html?_r=1
  2. Mason, I. (2013, October 15). Laughing away pain. Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/267434.php
  3. Xie, L., Kang, H., Xu, Q., Chen, M. J., Liao, Y., Thiyagarajan, M., . . . Nedergaard, M. (2013, October 18). Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science, Vol. 342, no. 6156, 373-377. doi: 10.1126/science.1241224. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/373

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  • Marie

    Marie

    January 23rd, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    I have plenty of laughs every day but just when I need to turn off all that mind chatter and go to sleep that’s when it all comes flooding back and I can’t stop the random thoughts, which keep me from sleeping.

  • lazydaisy

    lazydaisy

    January 23rd, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    Sadly I think that I am lacking in both areas!

  • bonner

    bonner

    January 24th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    We read all of this, and I definitely believe that it is valid, but I read it and think that this has to be a whole lot easier said than done for many. What about those who are depressed and who can find joy and laughter in nothing which surrounds them? And for those who struggle mightily with insomnia? How can they get a restful noght’s sleep when they barely can close their eyes for two minutes and get any sort of sleep at all, much less sleep that will reenergize and focus them. So to me it seems as if there are going to have to be some recovery steps taken before this prescription could be fulfilled for a whole lot of people.

  • YVONNE

    YVONNE

    January 25th, 2014 at 4:52 AM

    If you have been semi functioning without adequate sleep for too long then you probably don’t even know anymore what it feels like to actually be well rested! You would be amazed at how much better you would feel after a few mights of getting on a regular sleep routine and starting to make up for all of those nights when sleep just didn’t come so easily to you. Turn off the tv, put down the phone, shut down the computer, and try to get some rest!

  • Mark

    Mark

    January 27th, 2014 at 3:55 AM

    Curious to know if anyone has any feelings one way or the other about taking sleep medications to help you achieve a long night’s sleep? Is getting rest in that way just as good as simply being able to lay down and fall asleep, or is a little help ok every now and then?

  • Roland

    Roland

    January 29th, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    What I take from this is that the essential key is to always find a way to carve out a little time for yourself. Watch a funny movie and get a few laughs, take the time to embrace being alone and get a little sleep. It is all about the power in taking time out and enjoying life once again, not being so caught up in the rat race that you forget about how to relax, have fun, and get some rest. There are too many people who now say they don’t have time to rest. Well I will tell you one thing- if you continue to deny yourself those laughs and relaxation then you won’t have any time left at all, because life will end up being pretty short for you indeed.

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