Sleep and pain – What’s the link?

Sleep and pain – what’s the link?

We all know that everything feels better when you’ve had a good night’s sleep.  I always tell my kids Sleep is magic – and you know what. It sort of is!

Sleep is like re charging your battery, just like you do with your phone.  When you are asleep your immune system gets to work on making you better, healing your tissues, helps your brain to organise and process all it has experienced in the day, helps regulate your moods and emotions and reduces stress hormones.

When you are in pain, getting to sleep and staying asleep can be difficult.  It’s long been established that pain stops you from sleeping well – obvious right.  But we now understand that the effect of sleep on pain may be even more important than the effect of pain on sleep.


What’s pain?

Stupid question – we all know and have experienced pain. It hurts.  Pain often signals that something isn’t right, you may be injured or unwell.  It’s your body’s warning system.

But pain is also a perception.  Your nerves send signals to your brain and your brain then interprets those signals.  Your brain can scale them up and start ‘screaming’ at you that something is wrong – heightening the pain or it can scale them down – ‘nothing to worry about here’.

There are many factors that influence how your brain responds to pain and it’s different and unique for everyone.  Your physical health, mood, anxiety, depression, previous experiences of pain, previous trauma, stress and sleep quality are just a few.


What’s the link between sleep and pain?

sleep and pain

There are lots of hormones / chemicals that are involved in sleep and can influence your brains perception of pain.

When you don’t sleep well it promotes inflammation and stress chemicals but good quality sleep promotes the release of ‘happy hormones ‘.  These reduce inflammation, improve your mood and reduce stress.

Sleep helps your brains to regulate the perception of pain and ‘turn down’ those pain signals.

If you are living with pain; exercise, getting out in the sunshine (vitamin D promotes sleep), fresh air and eating well are all more difficult and all disrupt sleep further.

But if you understand why sleep is so important for managing your pain then it’s essential to prioritise sleep when trying to deal with pain – acute or chronic.



How to get a good night’s sleep

So, what can you do to improve your sleep?

  • Routine: Children often have a bed time routine but adults benefit from this too. A routine signals to your brain that it’s time for bed and to start producing those helpful sleep hormones.  Have a warm drink, read a book / listen to an audio book / mindfulness recording, use a consistent essential oil in a burner / candle before bed (ensure extinguished before you sleep).  What ever works for you is fine but just do the same thing every night, at the same time and the same order.  Consistency is key here.


  • Timing: Try to go to bed and wake up at regular times.  This sets hormone rhythms for your brain that will promote sleep.


  • Blue light: If you struggle to get to sleep, avoid using your phone / watching TV for 30 -60 mins before bed. Blue light prevents the production of sleep hormones. Red light is helpful.


  • Relax: Listen to audio books, read, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, writing down your list of concerns and putting them to one side to deal with the next day, can all be helpful. Do what works for you.


  • Daytime prepares for bedtime: What you do in the daytime influences your sleep at night. Make sure you gets outside in the sunshine (or sit in the garden if this isn’t possible), exercise, eat a healthy diet, keep well hydrated.  Avoid caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime.


  • Environment: Keep your bedroom as a bedroom, as much as possible. Don’t have it cluttered with work things or distractions.  Many people are now forced to work in their bedrooms, since the pandemic.  This can be very detrimental.  Try to tidy away your work things / have them out of sight if possible. Don’t work too close to bedtime.   Keep the room cool, dark and quiet as much as possible.


  • Still can’t sleep? If you still can’t sleep or you wake and can’t get back to sleep, get up. Write down any negative thoughts / worries to get them ‘out of your head’, repeat your bedtime routine, go into another room, distract your brain and try again.  Even if you’ve had a ‘bad night’ try to stick to the same wake up and bedtime.  It will be beneficial in the long run.


Sleep and pain



Other things that can impact sleep and pain:

sleep and pain

  • Medication for pain or other conditions can have side effects that can include sleep interference. Check with your GP / pharmacist before stopping any prescribed medication.


  • Mental Health: Anxiety, depression and stress can all interfere with sleep and are made worse by poor sleep. Addressing these issues is essential in helping you to sleep better and manage your pain.  Talk to your GP.  A therapist, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), clinical hypnotherapy and medications, can all paly role.  Find what works for you.


  • See your osteopath: If you are in pain getting help and advice to reduce that pain can help you to sleep better and this will ultimately help your pain even further.






If you need more help or support please get in touch, we would be happy to help.

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