Home / Blog September 23, 2022

How Does Pain Affect Your Sleep – And Vice Versa?

Lack of sleep can increase pain. At the same time, living with chronic pain can keep you from sleeping at night. Here are some strategies you can try to break this cycle and restore your rest.

pain and sleep

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Lack of sleep can make you feel pain more often, while chronic pain can keep you up at night.

Melatonin and serotonin are two important hormones that are involved with both sleep regulation and pain perception.

Improving your sleep habits might ease pain symptoms. 

Did you know?
Breathing exercises are a great short-term anxiety coping mechanism, and can also help you fall asleep.

In some instances, pain is an important feeling: it is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong so you can walk away from a potentially dangerous or harmful situation. However, when pain continues after the fact with no apparent cause, it can become detrimental to your quality of life, and it may even be diagnosed as chronic pain syndrome. Pain often keeps people awake at night, and chronic pain can lead to a recurring pattern of sleepless nights. And the worst part of not getting enough sleep is that it increases pain perception, further raising your pain levels.

If you or a loved one have experienced chronic pain, you’ll know there’s often no single easy solution to break this difficult cycle. At the same time, one good night’s sleep can make a big difference in your quality of life. This article will go over a few strategies that might help people with chronic pain get better rest.

The Relationship Between Pain and Sleep

Recent scientific studies show that people with poor sleep tend to experience physical pain more often. At the same time, patients with painful medical conditions report lower sleep quality.

Chronic pain in particular makes it difficult to rest. You may twist and turn in your sleep, wake up often, and find it very difficult to sleep deeply, if you can sleep at all.

relationship between sleep and pain

How Does Sleep Affect Pain Perception?

Current research studies suggest that people with poor sleep quality and short sleep duration are more likely to develop chronic pain disorders, including migraines, pelvic pain, and fibromyalgia (a pain condition with unexplained muscle and joint pain).

To make matters worse, people with chronic joint pain also experience higher pain levels following a night of insufficient sleep.

Unfortunately, people who deal with pain disorders often struggle to find proper treatment. If you are experiencing chronic pain, it’s essential to speak with a medical professional to start getting to the root of the problem. They can also help you develop a plan to find temporary relief from your symptoms. Since sleep is linked to pain perception, it may be an important part of your treatment plan.

Hormones Involved in Sleep Regulation

Melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, seems to play a crucial role in pain perception. While this chemical factor is a key component of sleep regulation, melatonin receptors are widely distributed among the neurons responsible for nociception, the ability to feel pain.

Melatonin works as a painkiller, making the body less sensitive to pain in darkness. This could explain why we don't feel a mosquito bite when we're asleep. Clinical studies confirmed these observations, showing that melatonin supplementation decreases migraine attacks and eases the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Another key hormone is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, mood, and pain perception. People with major depression and insomnia have lower levels of this chemical in the brain.

Additionally, recent studies show that increasing serotonin levels with medicines can ease fibromyalgia symptoms. This observation leaves us with an important takeaway: pain, sleep, and mood is interconnected, and when one of them is impaired, the pain cycle is perpetuated. On the other hand, improving one of these factors could help break the cycle.

How to Sleep Well Despite Chronic Pain

Living with pain is challenging. But there are some ways to make it easier.

One is to improve sleep quality. Here are a few tips to help you with that:

Prioritize Sleep Quality

You can set yourself up for successful sleep by paying extra attention to proper sleep hygiene. Follow a strict daytime rhythm with timed meals, physical activity, naps, and bedtime routine. Keep in mind that better sleep might ease your symptoms, which will also make it easier to doze off once you’re under the covers.

Boost Your Serotonin and Melatonin Levels

Light exposure decreases melatonin production and increases your pain during the night. This is why it’s helpful to avoid blue light before bedtime and banish screens from your bedroom. You can take this a step further by eating tryptophan-rich foods for dinner (such as turkey, dairy products, and complex carbohydrates) to help your body produce more of these sleepy hormones.

Your bedding can also help! There's a correlation between weighted blankets and melatonin production, and the same holds true for weighted blankets and serotonin. So snuggling up with your favorite weighted blanket could be a great way to get better sleep.

Be Physically Active

While pain can hold you back from regular exercise, it doesn't mean that you must be physically inactive. Try and test your limits. Regular physical activity eases chronic pain and boosts your sleep. To avoid causing a pain flareup, choose a gentle physical activity and discuss it with your medical professional first. For example, if you’re experiencing pain in your hips or knees, you might want to switch from jogging to swimming.

Learn Anxiety Coping Mechanisms

Constant pain can understandably make you anxious, and lying awake at night is no help for nervous thoughts. Luckily, there are many coping mechanisms that can help you manage anxiety, which, in turn, may improve your pain perception and sleep. Guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness meditation are all excellent choices. Practicing these techniques takes only a few minutes every day and can have a lifelong impact.

A Natural Way to Sleep Well

A Bearaby blanket is a therapeutic blanket that uses deep touch pressure to give you a calming, sleep-improving effect. Using a weighted blanket increases serotonin and melatonin but also reduces cortisol, a stress-related hormone. This way, it can help you feel calmer and sleep better.

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If you’re new to weighted blankets, you can check out our weighted blanket guide to learn more about picking the right blanket for you. Our cooling weighted blankets are designed to promote airflow while keeping you cozy, so if you tend to sleep hot, they might be a good choice!