The sleep/pain cycle in my opinion ….

I’m sure most of us can vouch for the fact that when we don’t get enough sleep the following day can be a such struggle. You feel like you have stayed up all night partying and now you feel hungover, fuzzy in the head and the to do list barley gets a look at. To add insult to injury if you have pain often your symptoms can feel like they go from manageable to unbearable overnight.

There has been a substantial amount of studies showing correlations between decrease sleep and obesity, type II diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease and depression and now the literature is mounting showing a bidirectional interaction between pain and sleep or lack there of. As many have experienced, pain can interfere with the ability to have a full restful sleep and disrupted sleep can contribute to enhanced pain perception.

Have you ever noticed this within your own life (especially if you experience chronic pain) where your symptoms can feel significantly worse when you haven’t had a good night sleep? In fact sleep complaints are shown in 67-88% of chronic pain disorders¹.


Across many studies the evidence shows that experimental disturbances of even just 1 night of sleep has the potential to increase clinical pain and that the quality of sleep on a given night was a predictor of pain the following day.

So why is sleep so important?

Sleep maintains homeostasis in our body and optimises function in all of our bodily systems, for example, sleep is involved in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels.

With regard to pain, studies have shown that a lack of sleep reduces pain inhibition. There have been some possible explanations on how sleep and pain are associated, there seem to be some disruptions to the dopaminergic signalling and opioidergic signalling. That might sound like another language to you but basically disrupted sleep may result in inadequate pain inhibitory processing and therefore you won’t be able to access the amazing natural pharmaceutical cupboard that we house in our very own body!

So the next time you are experiencing a spike in your symptoms perhaps you can ask yourself “how did I sleep last night?” and if you find a correlation with your symptoms and the quality and the amount of sleep you had, you may be able to change your perception with regard to how you are feeling. Your deeper understanding might help you release that perhaps your increase in symptoms doesn’t mean that something more sinister is at play but rather your bodies natural pain inhibition processes isn’t working as well as it should.


  1. Finan, P. H et al. (2013). The Association of Sleep and Pain: An Update and a Path Forward. The Journal of Pain, 14(12), 1539–1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007
  2. Edwards, R. R et al. (2009). Sleep continuity and architecture: Associations with pain-inhibitory processes in patients with temporomandibular joint disorder. European Journal of Pain, 13(10), 1043–1047. doi:10.1016/j.ejpain.2008.12.007

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