Back Pain and Sleep Deprivation

For this week's article, we've got a guest blogger! The experts at The Sleep Help Institute are sharing the scoop on the link between back pain and sleep deprivation, and how to overcome it.

Back Pain and Sleep Deprivation:

The Link and Getting Better Sleep


While it may come as no surprise that back pain can interrupt your sleep, you might not be aware that sleep deprivation can lessen your tolerance for pain. Back pain could create a continuing cycle that makes both your sleep quality and back pain worse.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Whether your sleep deprivation comes from back pain, stress, or some other source, the effects of sleep deprivation reach far and deep inside your body. Neurons in the brain start to slow down, which affects your reasoning abilities, decision-making skills, and reaction times. Lack of sleep also alters mood, often resulting in more irritability, aggression, and anxiety.

Without adequate rest, the immune system doesn’t function at full capacity. At night, the immune system goes to work healing and restoring the body. Getting less than seven hours of sleep doesn’t give the immune system enough time to do its job or to recharge itself, which means it doesn’t function as well the next day either.

Back Pain and Sleep Loss

Sleep deprivation can reduce your pain tolerance. In a study conducted to test the theory, participants got either nine or seven hours of sleep. They then held their finger over a burner for as long as possible. Participants who got nine hours of sleep were able to keep their finger on the burner for twenty-five percent longer. They could tolerate the pain better.

Sleep deprivation also alters the effectiveness of pain medications. Lack of sleep leads to increased perceptions of pain, which in turn, nullifies the pain relieving qualities of the medicine. The cycle between back pain and sleep loss then continues.

How to Get Better Sleep with Back Pain

Stopping the cycle of pain and sleep deprivation requires taking a multifaceted approach. Always follow the advice and instructions of your medical provider. Next, take a look at your mattress. Some mattresses are better for managing back pain than others. Depending on what kind of bed you have, you may need one with a different firmness or support level. Don’t forget to take a good look at your pillow as it can make a difference for the alignment of your spine.

While you may not be able to eliminate back pain, there are things you can do to improve your sleep quality and, by default, your pain tolerance as well.

  • Change Your Sleep Position: Try changing your sleep position throughout the night to see if it makes a difference for your back pain and sleep quality. Back sleepers may be awakened by snoring while stomach sleepers could be contributing to their own back pain.

  • Regular Exercise: Regular exercise can strengthen and stretch muscles that cause back pain. However, always follow the activity recommendations of your medical provider. Exercise also wears the body out, so you’re more tired at night.

  • Meditation: Regular meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, can help reduce stress, inflammation, pain perception, and improve mood. It can also lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and the number of proteins in the blood that cause inflammation.

  • Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine helps relax your body before bed. It can also trigger the release of sleep hormones at the same time every day to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle.