How Pain Affects Your Sleep

Sleep is a very important aspect of your life. You do it every single night, or at least you try. If you are someone who struggles to get asleep or stay asleep, you know what a pain your nighttime routine can be. A huge culprit of your lack of sleep could be pain. Any type of pain can rob you of a good night’s sleep. Oftentimes you may not even realize how much sleep you are missing out that could be caused by chronic lower back, neck pain or other throbbing pain. Even if you get to sleep, pain will often prevent you from staying asleep or even contribute to sleep insomnia.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, two out of three people with chronic pain will have trouble sleeping at night. If you are experiencing trouble sleeping due to pain, you are definitely not alone.

How Does Pain Keep You Awake?

Pain is felt when nerves are stimulated intensely and this sensation will activate your brain, thus making it difficult to stay asleep at night. When you have an uninterrupted night of sleep, your body is able to relax and heal. This is especially true with regard to immune response and cognitive function. When you have a constant nagging feeling of pain, it becomes near impossible to have a good night’s rest. When you can’t rest properly you can’t heal properly, thus your pain becomes increasingly worse. This then becomes a vicious cycle exacerbating your chronic pain.

When It Comes to Insomnia…

Believe it or not, it does not take a lot of pain to induce insomnia. This could be in relation to having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up earlier than desired. Chronic back pain seems to be a huge contributing factor of having trouble falling asleep. Any type of sleep insomnia, however, will likely cause you to feel as though you are not refreshed or rejuvenated for your new day. This is called non-restorative sleep and can be a big reason for your pain feeling even worse than the day before.

More Vicious Cycles

For some people, their back pain is so bad that they are prescribed opioids like morphine and codeine. While they may help ease your chronic back pain, they are linked to increasing your chances of sleep apnea. A brief pause in breathing while sleeping is called sleep apnea and can contribute to sleep problems as well. Therefore, it becomes difficult to give up opioids if you think they are actually helping you sleep, when indeed they are not.

Other Factors

Chronic back pain can become very limiting and debilitating. It often prevents people from exercising. Without appropriate exercising, you are more likely to put on weight. Additional weight and chronic pain is a recipe for disaster when it comes to healing the body and getting a proper amount of sleep. Excess weight can also be a contributing factor to sleep apnea.

Your Type of Pain

Different types of pain will wreak havoc on your body in different ways.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the top types of pain keeping you awake at night are chronic back pain, headaches and temporomandibular joint pain or TMJ for short. Other common types of pain that lead to sleep insomnia include musculoskeletal pain like arthritis and fibromyalgia. Cancer pain from the disease itself and from treatment can keep you awake too.

If you are unfortunately experiencing any of these types of pain, your length and quality of sleep will likely be affected. Research has shown that these types of pain can also affect your circadian rhythm and also cause your brain to become more active during sleep.

I Can’t Get to Sleep

A huge help for being able to fall asleep is to be able to unwind, relax and rid your room of distractions. Most people, even those not suffering from chronic pain, can’t just close their eyes and be asleep in seconds. It takes things like a dark, quiet room with no distractions. When you do create this type of environment but are struggling with chronic back pain, your attention immediately gets focused on the pain – which is why you can’t seem to fall asleep. You may have found that during the day you distract yourself through hobbies, television or other activities to help relieve yourself of the pain. It has been reported that pain perception can increase during your attempt to sleep as all these distractions have ceased. Then, it becomes increasingly more difficult to fall asleep which adds on more unwanted stress.

How Do I Get My Sleep Back?

If you are suffering from chronic pain, you may need to have a conversation with your doctor first. Tell your physician about your pain and exactly how it affects your sleep patterns. You and your doctor will need to find a way to properly manage your pain before you will see improvement in your length and quality of sleep.

Keep in mind that there are also things you can do at home to help create a healthy sleeping routine. First, do not go to sleep unless you are sleepy. You can find creative ways to become sleepy, for example, listen to relaxing music, meditating, taking a nice warm bath or reading a book. In addition, be sure to stop using any electronics, as this is more distracting to your brain and body. Lastly, if you are not asleep within 30 minutes, get up and walk around. Laying in bed without being sleepy can become stressful and frustrating. Get up and try your routine again.


Chronic pain can be a real bummer on a good night’s rest. It is important to have a conversation with your doctor if you feel as though you’ve exhausted all other options. Make some good healthy, bedtime habits and take the advice from your health care professional.

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