How a Lack of Sleep Can Become a REAL Pain

There are over 100 million chronic pain patients in the United States, and approximately two-thirds of them experience poor, or disruptive, sleep. Ask any one of them, and they can tell you just how important a good night’s sleep can be, and also how elusive it can be. Quality and quantity can both be important, but having six hours of quality sleep can be more beneficial than eight hours of broken, disruptive sleep.

The relationship between sleep and pain can, often times, be a catch-22 — pain can wake you up and/or keep you awake, while a lack of sleep can increase your pain (along with causing, or adding to, several other health issues). A lack of sleep, or a lack of quality sleep, can lead to depressive symptoms, which can lead to an increased intensity of your current physical pain. It can also cause you to have migraines, or to have more frequent migraines if you’re already a sufferer. A study done on rats showed that when deprived of REM sleep, the proteins that regulate the control of pain signals in the central nervous system didn’t do their jobs properly — the protein that was supposed to stop the pain signal was decreased, while the protein responsible for sending the pain signal was increased. This same study also showed that when the rats were not allowed REM sleep for just three days, an increase in a particular protein, called P2X3, was found. This protein is linked to “the initiation of chronic pain,” (Boyels).


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Sleep deprivation can also effect your level of pain in a little bit more of an indirect way — it can interfere with weight loss. Excess body fat can lead to joint pain on weight-bearing joints and inflammation of non-weight-bearing joints, both of which can be quite painful. The stress that is added on the joints due to the extra weight can also put you at risk for osteoarthritis, which again, is a painful condition. When you’re short on sleep, the area of your brain that controls impulses and decision-making becomes kind of sluggish, if you will. It isn’t as active as it should be if you aren’t getting enough sleep. This lack of self-control, along with an impaired decision-making ability, can lead you to make poor choices when it comes to what you eat and whether or not you exercise. A poor diet, plus a lack of exercise, equals no weight loss — and even worse, possible hunger and weight gain!

“Get more sleep,” is something that can be easy to say, but next-to-impossible to do, depending on your situation. Here are some proven tips offered by the National Sleep Foundation that may help you to get some more restorative shut-eye:

  • Set, and stick with, a wake/sleep schedule. – A regular sleep schedule can be important for your body.
  • Reduce your consumption of nicotine and caffeine. – These substances can disrupt your sleep.
  • Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable. – Having the proper support can help you get more comfortable, which can lead to better sleep.
  • Have a relaxing wind-down routine that you do each night before bed. – Get your body ready for bed by getting it into sleep mode each night before bed.
  • If you go to bed only to find you’re not sleepy, go into a different room and find something to do until you get sleepy. – Laying in bed awake can defeat your purpose.

If you have any questions about how to get a good night’s sleep, or for more information about how pain can affect your sleep and your health, please feel free to contact us.


  • Boyels, Salynn. (2010). Lack of Sleep Triggers ‘Migraine’ Proteins. WebMD. Retrieved from
  • Healthbeat. (n.d.). Why Weight Matters When It Comes to Joint Pain. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from
  • Indian University. (2015). 100 Million Americans Live With Chronic Pain, but Treatment Research is Insufficient. Science Daily. Retrieved from
  • Lee, et al. (2016). Exploring the Associations Shared By Mood, Pain-Related Attention, and Pain Outcomes Related to Sleep Disturbance in a Chronic Pain Sample. Psychology and Health Journal, 31(5). Retrieved from Harrison.
  • National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Healthy Sleep Tips. National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from
  • WebMD. (n.d.). Sleep More, Weigh Less. WebMD. Retrieved from
  • Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash