The Effects of Pain on Sleep

Learn how different types of pain can affect sleep, and how to sleep better when struggling with chronic pain.

For those of you who are wondering if pain can make you tired or cause additional problems, doctors say we should not endure pain for a long time, because it can affect our general health status. Records show that it affects more people than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. In America, it is estimated that 50 million adults suffer from chronic pain, and nearly 20 million suffer from its consequences. One of the consequences is undoubtedly the lack of sleep, which can trigger other health problems.

In fact, it is a vicious circle of causes and consequences, where chronic pain provokes less sleep, and the lack of sleep aggravates chronic pain syndrome. It can be hard to determine the root of the problem, thus making it difficult to heal.

No matter whether your pain is acute or chronic, you can experience sleep difficulties. However, there is a difference between them. Sharp pain can be sudden and severe, but it passes in a while, whereas chronic pain can last for more than six months and exist independently from the original cause, but it may have lower intensity.

Different Types of Sleep-Related Pain

Different types of pain and complications can impact your sleep.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain lasts for more than six months and causes more pain on top of the original injury. Some examples of chronic pain include fibromyalgia, arthritis, pinched nerve, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, gout, restless leg syndrome, Raynaud’s syndrome, and vascular pain.

Chronic pain affects your sleep habits in different ways. For example, those who have pinched nerve will have a difficult time finding a position that will not increase this pain. Treating your pain while sleeping depends on many factors, but ultimately, maintaining good sleep hygiene and managing the root of your pain are good practices that can help improve your condition.

Back Pain

Back pain is a common problem among people all over the world. Almost fifty percent of Americans report that they have symptoms of back pain, and the situation is very similar in other countries. The human spine protects the spinal cord, nerve endings and internal organs, provides structural support for the necessary upright posture and helps with movement. When the spine is unhealthy, it cannot perform, and because of that, you experience pain in your back. Individuals who suffer from this problem have pain that radiates down the leg, muscle aches, or pain that gets worse with standing, walking, bending or lifting. These symptoms affect sleep especially if you are sleeping on a mattress that does not provide proper spinal support as it will only increase the pain. If you don’t treat them, they will contribute to sleep deprivation.

Neck Pain

Neck pain happens because of many factors such as the narrowing of the spinal canal, arthritis, or disc degeneration, and it is not limited to the neck. You can experience shooting pains, leg weakness, numbness, or tingling in your limbs. Sleeping with neck and shoulder pain creates discomfort, which can damage your sleep quality. It is not recommended to sleep on your stomach, but if you must, it would be best to use thin and soft pillows. If you don’t want to wake up with a sore neck, the best position is back sleeping, and the best pillows for neck pain are memory foam models.

Hip Pain

Hip issues cause pain in the hip and groin area, while pains that you experience in the upper thigh, outer hip, and buttock area are the resulting ligament, muscle, and other soft tissue problems. The most common cause of hip pain is osteoarthritis that occurs because of joint inflammation. Sleeping with hip pain can make it difficult to find a comfortable position. It is vital to talk to your physician and get adequate pain management medicines and physical therapy. In some cases, a hip replacement or chronic pain rehabilitation programs may be needed. Also, you can try exercises that will strengthen your inner and outer thighs, or opt for a water workout.


Arthritis is a widespread condition that affects over 50 million adults. It comes in more than 100 forms, but it primarily affects the joints. The causes depend on the type of arthritis that you have, but the symptoms involve stiffness, pain, swelling, and decreased range of motion. Age and weight are significant causes of arthritis because your joints get older and weaker as you age or gain weight. Injuries that cause joint damage and infections are also common causes of arthritis, along with genetics. Having arthritis pain will make falling asleep problematic, and certain types of this condition can cause sensitivity to noise, motion transfer and temperature. However, getting more sleep and having good sleep hygiene will alleviate pain from arthritis.


Fibromyalgia is the cause of widespread body pain that comes with other conditions such as arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, or lupus. Among the symptoms of fibromyalgia are stabbing and shooting pains, severe pain, deep muscular aching, and stiffness. This condition causes sleep disturbances by interrupting your sleep with sudden brain activity that is typical in awakened state. To fight this condition and improve your sleep quality, you need to find ways to get psychological support for chronic pain, therapeutic massage, physical therapy or ways to destress.


Researchers have found that every year over 36 million Americans report headaches and migraines. Migraines cause severe head throbbing, blurred vision, nausea, vertigo, fatigue, and light sensitivity. And if you have migraines, you are likely to experience sleep problems for as long as the symptoms last (which can even be days). Individuals that suffer from migraines often have insomnia, so having good sleep hygiene is a helpful way to reduce these problems. Of course, you also need to reduce the consumption of headache-triggering substances, such as coffee and alcohol, and drink plenty of water (just not before bed).


Women who have endometriosis usually feel pain in the stomach or lower back area during, before or after their menstruation, or even during sexual intercourse. With this condition, irregular or heavy bleeding, along with fatigue and cramping pain, can cause sleep problems. Many treatments can help you with endometriosis symptoms, such as hormonal treatments and laparoscopic surgery. Be sure to consult your doctor before undergoing any procedure or treatment.

REM Pain

Rapid eye movement or REM is the sleep stage where parts of your brain are acting like you are awake. Scientists are still exploring REM sleep, but they have found that it is crucial for memories and dreams. However, REM sleep behavior disorder can cause you to have unpleasant dreams and act out by making noises like shouting, talking, laughing, or cursing or even punching around you. If you have narcolepsy or neurodegenerative disorders, you are more likely to have REM sleep behavior disorder. The same goes if you are taking specific medications or if you are a male over 50. The best treatment would be to take natural or prescription sleep aids that will improve your sleep. You might also want to safeguard things around you.

Pain From a Bad Bed

Having a lousy mattress can also drastically affect your sleep quality, while a good bed can help you. Sleeping on a good mattress can help you reduce pressure points on the shoulders, hips, the lower back region, and neck, alleviate aches and pains, and get proper spinal alignment, while a lousy mattress will increase the pressure on these areas and cause more pain. The weight of your body and the position you sleep in can be vital in finding the ideal mattress material and firmness.

We will now list the primary materials you have on the mattress market.

The most common mattress type is innerspring. These models are bouncier than others, but they are also very firm. Many people have complained that they are too firm, so if you need a firmer mattress, this would be a good choice for you.

Latex mattresses are models that have at least one layer of latex in the comfort area. Because of this structure, they provide excellent pressure relief, pain relief, and spinal support. For better comfort and feel, they can have many layers of latex with different densities. But they do not have edge support so that you can get sinkage around the edges.

Foam mattresses have close conforming to the body, and they provide great alignment for your spine and excellent pressure relief.

Memory foam models have extraordinary pain relief, but heavier people should get firmer models to prevent excessive sinkage.

Airbed mattresses are filled with air. You can deflate them to create a different feel on your body. They effectively absorb motion transfer, but they make noise that can cause some people sleep disruptions.

Hybrids are a combination of two or more components, like innerspring, latex, wool or foam. With their unique combination and structure, they give excellent edge support with minimal sinkage, but they are not a good choice if you need an extra-soft or extra-firm surface.

However, you should note that many companies have sleep trials with their products, so you will be able to try the mattress and find the right fit. Some companies even have trial periods, warranties and refund policies, so it will make choosing the right model cost-free. Be sure to check these details and read some guides before buying a new mattress.

Choosing the Right Pillow

One of the crucial things that should be at the top of your list is selecting the right pillow. The right pillow can aid or worsen your chronic pain. Thickness, material, and loft are vital factors for your choice of pillow. They determine if the pad will alleviate or increase your pain. There are also pillows that are made especially to help with certain chronic illnesses like back or neck pain.

Dealing with Sleep-Related Pain

Studies have suggested that lack of sleep is more likely to predict chronic pain than the other way around. So, it makes good sense to deal with the problem correctly, preventing it to from escalating and transferring to a higher level of health deterioration, since sleep hygiene can impact how we can deal with pain. Below are some of the practices we need to follow for the benefit of our health.


  • The proper duration of sleep


It is estimated that adults need about 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep a night, but we don’t have to stick to this firmly. Instead, find out what amount works best for you.


  • Time of going to bed


What most of the doctors suggest is to go to bed around 10 p.m. or at least before midnight, which is hard to achieve with the pace of modern life. But, we should definitely go to bed at the same time every night. There are sleep tracker apps we can use to maintain regular sleep habits, so we should profit from these benefits of the modern age.


  • Avoiding noise


It is known that sound prevents us from having a quality sleep, so we should opt for a quiet place, or relay on the help of white noise machines to eliminate city noises or other background sounds.


  • Proper bedroom conditions


Dark and cool bedroom is best for healthy and peaceful sleep. Just as the light sends a signal to our body that it should be awake and active, darkness helps our body to produce melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland, often known as the “sleep hormone,” which sends a signal to our mind that it is time for rest. Melatonin influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that it is time for snoozing, thus preparing our body for sleep by relaxing our muscles and reducing our body temperature.


  • The role of bed


The bedroom is an essential part of your home, so it should only be dedicated to sleep, as opposed to what we usually use it for, like watching TV, eating snacks and similar bad habits. As for the walls, even though the colors of walls are subject to trends, they should be chosen with care. For example, light pink colors, shades of mauve, or deep purples, colors with violet undertones are a trend for 2018, but in order to be productive, we should color our bedroom walls blue, yellow, green, silver or orange. Based on the study of 2,000 British homes, Hotel booking site Travelodge concluded that those who slept in a blue bedroom were sleeping around 7 hours and 52 minutes every night because blue is associated with calmness, which reduced their blood pressure and heart rate. Shades of yellow produced 7 hours and 40 minutes of sleep, shades of green produced 7 hours and 36 minutes, shades of silver 7 hours and 33 minutes and shades of orange 7 hours and 28 minutes. So, pick your colors carefully, because your sleep depends on them. The worst colors were proven to be purple, brown and grey.


  • Limit screen time


As much as we depend on mobile phones and tablets, these gadgets have no place in bedrooms. The screens trick our brains that it is daytime. Avoid using them an hour before bed.


  • Bedtime routine


We are all creatures of habit, so sleeping is no different. Make your own routine by taking a warm bath, using aromatherapy, drinking warm milk or other practice you feel helps you sleep better. There are even some indications a banana helps.


  • Living habits


Daytime habits are equally important. Sunshine during the day, eating well, exercising, and simply living a healthy life helps good sleep.


  • Forbidden pleasures


Night time is no time for coffee and alcohol. They are stimulants and will not help you get good sleep. So, do not take them four to six hours before going to bed.


  • Ultimately, relax


We all faced those moments of frustration lying in bed with eyes wide open. But, getting angry will not help. The best thing to do is to get up and do something relaxing, (such as reading a book) before going back to bed to give it another try.


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