Sleep and Pain: Beat the Cycle and Improve Your Sleep Today

Prioritizing sleep helps people with chronic pain.

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

It’s no surprise that pain makes it harder to sleep. Whether it’s a chronic lower backache or a recent (no matter how minor) injury, pain can make it difficult to fall and say asleep throughout the night.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario – sleep, which can give the body time to “heal” from pain, is tough to get when you’re suffering. But there’s hope.

The National Sleep Foundation’s 2015 Sleep in America Poll found that pain is a key factor affecting how adults sleep. When asked how often they get a good night’s sleep, less than half those with acute pain and only 39 percent with chronic pain said “always or often,” and one quarter of chronic pain sufferers reported poor or very poor sleep quality.

What’s even more interesting? People with pain averaged 42 minutes of weekly “sleep debt” (the gap between the sleep they need and the sleep they get).

The greater the level of pain, the greater the sleep debt.

It’s clear that pain is an obstacle to good sleep, but there are ways to help. If you’re in pain, taking proactive steps to protect your sleep is even more important than normal.

In fact, poor sleep itself can make you more vulnerable to developing pain, so taking care of your sleep can keep pain and sleep loss from becoming a cycle.

Make sleep a priority

Video production in partnership with Healthination Logo

People who are motivated to get enough sleep actually sleep more, an average of 36 minutes per night.

In theory, it's easy to add a half-hour of sleep to your nightly routine. After all, that's just a bit more than the length of an average sitcom. But 36 minutes adds up. That's 4.2 hours of extra sleep each week, or the equivalent of 5 ½ 40-hour work weeks over the course of a year, more than most Americans receive in vacation time.

The good news is that the link between motivation and sleep time held true for chronic pain sufferers too: people with chronic pain who said they were motivated to make sure they had enough time for sleep, and who had a bedtime routine did sleep more.

Set a healthy bedtime routine.

Set a start time for your nightly bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before bed, at which point you put away work, shut off electronics, and put stressful topics on hold until the next day.

Take good care of your bedroom

People experiencing pain may be especially sensitive to factors like noise, temperature, light, and mattress quality. If you’re in pain, you’re even more sensitive to the environment around you.

Using white noise, darkening shades or curtains, keeping electronics out of the bedroom, and having a cool room and a good mattress—all will stack the deck in your favor and make it more likely you’ll sleep well.

Relax your mind

Pain is associated with higher stress levels. People with pain say they feel less control over their sleep, and worry more about lack of sleep affecting their health. Try not to get too frustrated with your sleep or assume you won’t sleep well—take it one night at a time. Use a relaxation technique or breathing exercise to keep your worries from compounding. If you approach each day with a commitment to sleep well, you’ll have the best opportunity, even with the challenge of pain, to reach your nightly sleep needs.