The Link Between Sleep and Pain: How Insomnia Cures May Help Pain, and Vice Versa

Learn how insomnia cures may better help you manage your pain, and the other way around.

Studies estimate that sleep complaints exist in about 67% to 88% of people with chronic pain disorders, and at least 50% of people with insomnia also suffer from chronic pain.

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As someone who has battled with a chronic pain condition for years, I have personally experienced the intimate relationship between sleep and pain. I know that when I sleep regularly and well, my pain seems to decrease. When I have to wake up early, go to bed late, or have other disruptions in my sleep schedule, I don’t do as well. At other times, my pain interferes with my sleep, making me tired after restless nights. I know I am not alone in this; many people suffer from insomnia, painful conditions, or both. Learn how insomnia cures may better help you manage your pain, and the other way around.

People often suffer from both pain and sleep problems simultaneously

Studies estimate that sleep complaints exist in about 67% to 88% of people with chronic pain disorders, and at least 50% of people with insomnia also suffer from chronic pain.[1] In some conditions, the link is even stronger. More than 90% of people with fibromyalgia also suffer from sleep problems, for example.[2]

Does pain cause sleep problems, or the other way around?

You might be surprised to learn that the answer, it seems, is both. You might not be shocked to hear that people in pain often experience trouble sleeping. We have all had at least one experience of pain keeping us up at night, be it from a sprained ankle, a bee sting, or something more serious. Treating your pain, or at least finding more effective ways of managing it, can help you to get more restful sleep and prevent fatigue. But while it is clear that pain can cause sleep problems, fatigue, and insomnia, there may be an even stronger pattern of sleep disturbances causing worsened pain.[1]

Sleep plays an important role in pain processing. Studies show that sleep disruptions cause reduced activity in inhibitory pain pathways in the nervous system and decreased pain tolerance.[2-4] Even just one night of sleep deprivation for four hours in the middle of the night can heighten a healthy individual’s sensitivity to pain.[3] Long-term sleep disturbances, like insomnia, have similar effects; one study found that people with the highest severity and frequency of insomnia showed the lowest pain tolerance.[4]

The relationship between pain and sleep is very complex; but researchers know that pain influences sleep and vice versa. So if you suffer from these conditions, treating your sleep problems and your pain may bring you maximum benefit.

Natural remedies for pain and insomnia cures

Some of the most effective ways at relieving pain and insomnia that occur together are those that are proven to effectively treat each condition individually. Some examples include:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to make you more aware of negative thought patterns that are destructive to your health and well-being, and learn to replace them with more productive, adaptive ones. This therapy helps a variety of conditions, including insomnia and chronic pain. Experts suggest that this may be one of the more helpful treatment options for people who have problems associated with the link between sleep and pain.[4] To learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy, go here.
  2. Meditation and mindfulness are especially effective techniques at managing pain, and they may also help you sleep better, as well. These techniques help you to focus on the present moment and to experience that moment (whether it includes pain, trying to fall asleep without success, or fatigue) without judgment. Learn about how mindfulness can help you turn down the perception of pain here.
  3. Melatonin is often known as the “sleep hormone.” While melatonin is well known for its ability to help you fall and stay asleep, it may also have effects on pain. Melatonin is an especially effective treatment for migraine headaches (learn more here). Studies show that sleep deprivation, along with enhancing pain, suppresses melatonin secretion. What’s more, when melatonin is then administered, pain is decreased and inflammatory markers are reduced.[5] Taking 3 mg of melatonin an hour before bed may just be the trick to helping you fall asleep and manage your pain at the same time.

There are many supplements, lifestyle strategies, and other natural health tools that can help you manage both chronic pain and insomnia, or both at the same time. For example, 5-HTP can help reduce pain and improve sleep in fibromyalgia sufferers. Browse our extensive collection of blogs on insomnia cures and pain management to find strategies right for you.

As a first step, try finding a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, who can help you find trends in both your pain and sleep problems. This will help you to pinpoint strategies to improve both conditions. After you have begun to work on altering thought and behavior patterns that may be contributing to your symptoms, try implementing a daily meditation practice and experiment with supplements like melatonin for help finding relief.

Share your experience

Do you suffer from chronic pain or insomnia? Do you find that pain causes sleep problems, or the other way around? Share your favorite insomnia cures or pain management tools in the comments section below.

[1] J Pain. 2013 Dec;14(12):1539-52.

[2] Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2015 Apr 28. [Epub ahead of print]

[3] Pain. 2013 Sep;154(9):1613-21.

[4] Pain. 2015 Feb 13. [Epub ahead of print]

[5] Sleep. 2014 Sep 1;37(9):1513-23.

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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