Back Pain and Sleep Deprivation: More Related Than You Think


For this week's article, we've got a guest blogger! Stacey L. Nash is a Seattle area writer for whose insomnia led her to research all aspects of sleep. Learn more about the connection between back pain and sleep deprivation.

Most people have experienced sleeplessness at one time or another. But, if getting less than seven hours of sleep has become your norm, you could be functioning in a state of sleep deprivation. When you’re sleep deprived, your brain and body change the way they function and sometimes it can lead to or contribute to chronic pain.

Sleep Deprivation: Relationship to Pain Perception

Sleep deprivation has many detrimental effects from and changes in appetite control and mood to weight gain and risk of diabetes. It also changes the speed at which neurons send messages and dampens brain cell activity.

Amongst all that, it alters your perception of pain. Even mild sleep loss can influence your ability to resist pain. In a study published in Sleep, researchers divided participants into groups to compare pain resistance. The first group averaged nine hours of sleep while the second averaged seven. Their pain threshold was measured by holding a finger over a heat source. The group that slept nine hours withstood pain on average for 25 percent longer than those who slept seven hours.

Another study published in Sleep had similar findings, except this time researchers compared three groups to get a more in-depth look at what kind of sleep might be related to pain perception. The first group got eight hours of sleep, the second four hours, and the third did not sleep at all. Results showed that the loss of REM sleep, in particular, increased pain perception. Participants were tested in both the morning and afternoon, and it was found that later in the day when the body was more tired, the pain perception increased.

Not only does sleep increase pain perception, but it can reduce the effectiveness of pain medications. A study published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology compared the effectiveness of codeine in a well-rested versus a sleep-deprived group. Using the same pain perception test as both of the previous studies, researchers found that sleep deprivation caused participants to pull their fingers off the heat source sooner than those who were well rested.

How to Improve Your Sleep

If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, it can be difficult to get a good night’s rest in the first place. Check your mattress to make sure you’ve got a model that doesn’t contribute to your pain. Medium-firm mattresses may be better for back pain in particular. You can also work to develop habits and behaviors that support high-quality sleep, including:

  • Consistent Sleep-Wake Schedule: Your body thrives off of consistency. As you go to bed at the same time every night, the brain learns when to start the release of sleep hormones. Try to keep your schedule on the weekends as well to prevent sleep debt on Mondays.

  • Address and Manage Pain: If you’re already suffering from back pain, a visit to the chiropractor can be a beginning point for prolonged pain reduction. With less pain, you’re more likely to get the rest you need.

  • Develop a Calming Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine can help your brain know when it’s time for sleep. It also gives you a chance to relieve stress and tension. You can try a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to quiet music.

  • Eat Healthy and Exercise: A balanced diet and regular exercise give your body a good chance of functioning at its best. If pain limits the kind of exercise you can do, consult your physician on activities that might work for you.

At Healthy Life Chiropractic, we want you to achieve optimal health. Our team will help you find back pain relief, so you can enjoy restful sleep and a healthy body!

Thank you to Stacey L. Nash for contributing this week’s blog post. Stacey is a Seattle area writer for whose insomnia led her to research all aspects of sleep. With a degree in communications from the University of Puget Sound, she helps put sleep into the forefront of the health and wellness conversation. When not researching and writing about sleep, she spends time with her husband and four children on their heavily-wooded, twelve-acre piece of heaven.