How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Back Pain

Even though the average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep, many people struggle to get that many hours in because of pain. Rest can become even more difficult because a lack of sleep influences both pain levels and the effectiveness of pain medications.

While pain perception varies from person to person, it can also change based on sleep quality and quantity. Researchers have tested the theory that sleep loss affects pain perception in a number of different studies, including one that compared pain sensitivity between a group of people that got nine hours of sleep and another got seven. Technically, both groups got an adequate amount of sleep, yet the group that increased their sleep time showed a 25 percent higher pain tolerance. Other studies have compared pain sensitivity between groups that got half the recommended amount of sleep or got no sleep at all. Every study showed that, in general, as the amount of sleep goes down the body’s sensitivity to pain goes up.

Pain tolerance isn’t the only way that sleep deprivation affects back pain. It also influences the body’s response to pain medication.




A study published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology explored the impact of sleep on the effectiveness of codeine. All participants took codeine but only half got a full night’s rest. Those who didn’t get enough sleep did not tolerate pain as well as those who did. Because lack of sleep increases pain and reduces the effectiveness of pain medications, sleep becomes more than a luxury and enters the realm of being a partner in pain management.

Everything from daytime habits and behaviors to bedroom conditions can influence sleep and, therefore, back pain. To provide the best chance at getting a good night’s rest, the right products and equipment need to be in the bedroom. For example, a mattress that supports your back and preferred sleep style can reduce wakefulness. A dark, quiet bedroom can help keep outside noises and distractions from interfering with sleep.

Behaviors and habits that support good sleep can also become part of reducing back pain. For many people, getting better sleep means developing a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning helps the body correctly time the release of hormones. For those who find it difficult to fall asleep, a bedtime routine can make a big difference. It gives both mind and body a chance to relieve stress while triggering the release of sleep hormones.

Diet can also influence the sleep-wake cycle. High-fat, heavy foods eaten close to bedtime can disrupt digestion and be uncomfortable. Caffeine and other stimulants eaten within four hours of bedtime can block sleep hormones. However, there are foods that promote the production of sleep hormones like dairy products, almonds, and bananas that make good late-night snacks.

Exercise can also affect how well you sleep. Regular activity wears the body out so it’s more tired at night. It also helps with weight management, muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance, all of which can help reduce back pain. Those who suffer from back pain should consult a physician to find appropriate exercises for their age, weight, and pain issues.

A focus on high-quality sleep may not eliminate back or neck pain, but it can certainly help bring it to manageable levels and allow pain medications to take full effect.