How does sleep affect my pain?

 In Exercise and Health

How does sleep affect my pain

Insomnia has been shown to increase pain. It can be a difficult situation for patients who find it difficult to get to sleep because they are in pain, and then their pain is exacerbated because they are unable to sleep. Sleep deprivation in healthy individuals can even bring on whole body symptoms of fibromyalgia and can decrease descending inhibition (pain is more sensitised) (Choy, E 2015).

Sleep is a very hot topic at the moment, and understandably so. With technology at our fingertips and people being more wired than ever, sleeping less than 8 hours per night is becoming the norm. Unfortunately this is not at the benefit of our health.

A population who definitely understands the struggle of sleep is parents. Some new parents may not get more than an hour or two of sleep per night for the first 1-2 years – maybe longer. There could potentially be nothing more annoying than a new parent coming in to see their physiotherapist for back pain or neck pain – and being told that a large contributing factor for their pain is lack of sleep. News flash – they are aware they are getting less sleep. Something that may be more realistic is to acknowledge that the lack of sleep may increase feelings of pain, and not to panic about this. It is less likely that you have a structural issue going on, and more that you have some hypersensitivity due to lack of sleep. Sleep may not be the easiest thing to change, but things you can change is trying to fit in 5 minutes of exercise per day, drinking enough water and using a heat pack. Then when you do get some better sleep – you will probably feel a million dollars!

Another population that comes into mind is people who are unable to sleep because of their pain. They end up in a vicious cycle because their pain makes it difficult to get comfortable, every time they roll over they wake up in pain, then they get less good quality sleep, and then their pain increases because that have not had good sleep. Some things that can help people get to sleep include

  • Use a heat pack when you go to sleep
  • Apply some Fisiocreme on sore areas before going to sleep
  • Try sleeping with a pillow between your knees, under your knees, or hugging the pillow
  • Do not worry about what position you sleep in, find one that is comfortable for you

For more information about sleep – check out episode X on the Physical Performance Show

Emily Georgopolous (APAM)
Masters of Physiotherapy

Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog

Click here to book an appointment with Emily or view our Active Rehab Class timetable here.


  1. Choy, EHS 2015, ‘The role of sleep in pain and fibromyalgia.’, Nature Reviews. Rheumatology, vol. 11, no. 9, pp. 513–520.

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