Chronic Pain and Sleep

Chronic Pain and Sleep


Sleep is an integral part of our lives. Not only does it help to balance our mood but it is necessary to feel refreshed and ready for the new day. Good sleep acts as a buffer to the days stressors. Without it we are left feeling tired, moody and unable to cope with the stress that the new day brings. Quality sleep is vital for our general health.


Insomnia is defined as the inability to obtain sufficient sleep; difficulty in falling or staying asleep; sleeplessness. Sleep must also be restorative. Some people are naturally short sleepers and require less sleep than the general population ie 4-6 hours. While other people are naturally long sleepers and require more than 8 hours of sleep in order to wake up feeling refreshed.


How pain affects our sleep

When we have chronic pain, a good night’s sleep becomes even more important.


Pain interferes with our ability to get a good nights rest. It can either cause trouble falling asleep (initial insomnia) or it can interfere with our ability to stay asleep (middle insomnia) or a mixture of both which results in sleep being non-restorative. Chronic pain can interfere further by decreasing both slow wave and REM sleep.


The reciprocal relationship between pain and sleep

The relationship between sleep and pain occurs in both directions. Poor sleep influences our perception of pain and severe pain worsens the quality of our sleep.


Insomnia and its effect on pain

More than 40% of people with insomnia experience chronic pain.


People who have a range of sleep disorders from obstructive sleep apnoea to Willis-Ekbom disease (previously known as Restless Legs Syndrome) experience increased pain. In fact, up to one fifth of people with Willis- Ekbom disease complain of chronic pain. Once the sleep disorder is effectively treated we experience less pain.


The quality of a person’s sleep has been shown to be a strong predictor of pain the next day. The poorer the quality of sleep, the worse the person’s pain will be the next day.


Insufficient sleep, in both quality and quantity, has been shown to be predictive of pain three years. What this means is that we need to treat our insomnia now in order to help to prevent ourselves from developing chronic pain in the long term.