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The Link Between Pain And Your Sleep

Millions of individuals in the United States are suffering from pain-related sleep loss. As of a 2015 poll from Sleep in America, 21 percent of Americans have some kind of chronic pain and 36 percent have acute pain. This leaves 43 percent who are free of any pain. People who suffer from chronic pain also suffer from insomnia and other sleeping disorders as well. The connection between pain and sleep is a real problem, and understanding how they interact with each other and how they work can help you.

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What is Pain?

Pain is unpleasant and can take many forms whether it’s a burn, the daily aches of arthritis, or a headache that just won’t stop throbbing. However, what you might not know is that there’s a science behind why you’re in pain.

Pain involves a complicated interaction between nerves, the spinal cord, and the brain. It’s kind of like a traffic system with different speeds, lights, weather, and road conditions. The theoretical vehicle that you are in because of the pain varies from one person to the next. Pain is also both emotional and physical. How you feel and react to it depends on what the cause is. There are also two different types of pain:


This is a sudden or severe pain that goes away after a short amount of time, such as with an injury.


This is the pain that lasts for months and is persistent. This is considered to be a health condition within itself.

What Causes Pain?

Pain starts at certain nerve endings that are stimulated. This could result from damage to body tissues, such as when you stub your toe or cut yourself. Not only that, but it can also result from damage or interruption to the nerves themselves. Sometimes, discomfort can come on for no reason at all or even long after an injury has healed.

Some of the most common forms of pain are:

Back Discomfort

Neck Discomfort


Nerve Damage



Pain From Tissue Damage

Your body’s way of telling you that you are in danger and that something is happening in your body that’s creating the pain. Sensory nerve cells are what pain is perceived through. These same types of cells send information from your senses.The peripheral nervous system is all of the nerves that are in your body except for the ones in your spinal cord and brain.This is the communication system between your brain and the rest of your body.

Pain From Nerve Damage

Pain can sometimes result from damage to one or more peripheral nerves or spinal nerves. This can happen from an infection, surgery, disease, or accident. The nerves that are damaged can misfire and send signals without any warning. This is called neuropathic pain and can be described as burning, numbing, tingling, or freezing.

Sleep Troubles

Pain is one of the main factors in the gap between the amount of sleep Americans need, and the amount they are actually getting. There’s an average of a 42-minute sleep debt for those with chronic pain and 14 minutes for those with acute pain. However, there is no overall sleep debt for those who don’t have discomfort, but even those in this group have sleep problems.

Pain comes with two main concerns, which are stress and poor health. These lead to poor sleep quality and shorter sleep time as well as other disturbances. Those who suffer from pain also feel less control over their sleep, and they worry about the lack of sleep that is affecting their health as well. They also exhibit higher sleep sensitivity.

A Preventable Cycle

When people experience pain at first, most do not lose sleep over it. However, when it becomes a chronic issue, it does become a problem and an inconvenient cycle. If somebody is getting poor sleep due to discomfort one night, they are more likely to suffer from the same thing the next night and so on. It will get worse each night. It’s also safe to say that pain triggers poor sleep. Someone who has lower back pain may experience a change in deep state to a lighter stage of sleep for each hour that they are sleeping, which will lead to waking up.

Pain Affect Sleep Position

Getting comfortable at night may seem like an impossible task, especially if you have arthritis or orthopedic pain. Joint and muscle issues can also result in maintenance insomnia rather than onset insomnia.


Certain pain medications can interrupt sleep. Some of the medications that are prescribed for the issues that you are experiencing, such as morphine or codeine, can actually cause insomnia. These medications can also cause apnea, which is a brief pause in breathing during sleep. Individuals who take these kinds of medications are at a higher risk for sleep issues.


Insomnia is a monster that too many people deal with. The term includes all different types of sleeping issues such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up earlier than you want to. Even though there are more reasons to have insomnia than any one person can count, the main cause of this debilitating sleep issue is chronic pain. There are also patients who suffer from chronic back discomfort that also do not feel refreshed in the morning when they do get sleep.

Poor Sleep Can Increase Pain

Having pain and insomnia is a double whammy. Sleep deprivation is linked to increased pain. When we don’t get enough rest, our bodies become more sensitive to pain, which can reduce your tolerance levels, which can then make the discomfort feel worse.

Fibromyalgia is one of those conditions that are linked very closely with sleep and pain. Improving sleep can decrease reports of pain for sufferers. Studies have shown that healthy people who have their REM sleep disrupted produce tenderness similar to those who are suffering from fibromyalgia.

Another study performed by the University of Washington showed that sleep disruption decreased pain thresholds, increased discomfort, fatigue, and skin sensitivity in middle-aged women who are seemingly healthy.

Feeling The Pain Makes it More Difficult to Sleep

When you are uncomfortable, you can make your mind more alert, and it can cause you to hyperfocus on the issue, which will, in turn, make it harder to relax to go to sleep. Psychologists have discovered that the more you fixate on sleep, the harder it becomes to get sleep, which could contribute to insomnia even more. Once you’re asleep, both chronic and acute pain can disrupt your rest throughout the night. If you have arthritis or joint discomfort and move in a way that causes discomfort, it can disturb your sleep and reduce the overall quality of it, leaving you feeling tired and unrested the next day.

Managing Your Pain

The first step in managing the pain so that you can stop suffering from sleeplessness is to reduce the discomfort. I know, you’ve probably already tried that. But, controlling the pain can help reduce anxiety, depression, improve sleep, and give you an overall better quality of life. Those who are suffering from sleep problems that come from discomfort should undergo a sleep study

As far as medications go, you should tell your doctor about the sleep issues that you are suffering from as a result of your discomfort. They may prescribe you sleeping pills and/or painkillers.

You can also try calming yourself with meditation. If done right, in as little as 10-minutes daily, you can train your mind to ignore the hurting. Other techniques include yoga and tai chi. You can also do some deep breathing exercises, focus on an object, or try progressive muscle relaxation.

Exercising is also beneficial in improving both comfort and sleep issues. However, you should ensure that you’re doing it within three hours of bedtime. For pain, try something that’s moderate and low-impact such as yoga, swimming, or walking.

One other thing that you should consider is your sleep position. Laying flat on your back isn’t always the best way to sleep. Those with acid reflux should sleep at an elevated position. Those with lower back pain should elevate their knees. Use wedge pillows, an adjustable bed, or other methods to help achieve a position that works best for the pain you are in.

Tips for Good Sleep

There are quite a few ways that you can get good sleep:

  Plan for a full eight hours. Give yourself time to relax and prepare for sleep and enough time to fall asleep so that you aren’t worrying about where the hands on the clock are. Try meditation or deep breathing.
  Ensure that your mattress is plenty supportive. If you are waking up with painful pressure points or some back pain, your mattress may be the issue. Get one that both supports your back and cushions your pressure points.
  Avoid alcohol and caffeine after the early afternoon hours.
  Eat a balanced diet.

Additional Tips For Sleep

  Limit yourself to a 10-20 minute nap in the afternoon.
  Try a warm bath or shower before bed.
  Listen to relaxation CD’s that play soothing sounds.
  Remove products with light that may interrupt your sleep such as the television.
 Run a fan or other white noise to drown out street sounds.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of things that can have you tossing and turning at night, but discomfort is one of the biggest culprits. It seems almost impossible to be able to ignore the discomfort or train yourself to focus on something else. However, your sleep health is important to your overall daily function. You need to get sleep in order to feel your best each and every day. Please consider trying some of the methods above to ease the pain so that you can get a restful night’s sleep.

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