woman laying awake in bed at nightIf you are experiencing chronic pain, you are most likely having a hard time sleeping, and sleep deprivation can increase pain levels.  The cycle of chronic pain and sleep deprivation can be extremely difficult to overcome.

Whether you are suffering from mild or chronic daily pain, it still affects a person’s ability to maintain a stable sleep schedule and achieve proper sleep.  While many people think that they are getting enough sleep because they get 7-8 hours per night, this doesn’t necessarily mean that their body is waking up fully rested and functional.  Quantity does not account for quality.
Approximately one in four people with chronic pain have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder.  One of the main functions of the body is to make repairs while we sleep at night.  Without this rest, we are making ourselves prone to different illnesses, migraines and mood disorders.  Individuals with more disrupted sleep have increased production and release of inflammatory markers in the bloodstream, leading to inflammation and pain.

Additionally, how the brain perceives things changes with the quality and quantity of sleep.  For example, if patient A and patient B both suffer from Fibromyalgia, but patient A sleeps 7 hours per night and patient B only sleeps 4 hours, studies show that patient B will experience more pain.  While their symptoms may be textbook identical, their realities are nothing alike. An internet survey of over 2,500 people with fibromyalgia showed that insomnia was one of the most commonly identified aggravating factors.
For people suffering from insomnia, this could potentially be fatal.  Insomnia is associated with memory impairment, frequent accidents, depression and other mood disorders.  It interferes with the functioning of certain brain areas and impairs cognitive performance. Simple decision-making can become impossible to a person suffering from insomnia. Here lies another destructive cycle of a once capable person now slipping into depression because they cannot care for themselves anymore.
A statistical analysis of insomnia’s relationship to absences from work caused by illness clearly found that there is a connection. Evidence shows that this effect can go on for up to 2 years after the incidence of insomnia.  Roughly 29% of migraines are caused by insomnia and 40% of psychiatric mood disorders are preceded by insomnia.

Pain can modify the way the central nervous system works, so a patient actually becomes more sensitive and feels more pain with the same or less provocation. This is called “central sensitization” because it involves changes in the central nervous system.  These patients are also more sensitive to ordinary touch and pressure as well – things that should not hurt.
Managing insomnia and chronic pain is a multi-step process involving several different types of healthcare providers. Make an appointment for sleep and pain management at Michigan Head & Neck Institute. For more information on sleep disorders and pain, please contact Dr. Richard Klein.
If you or someone you know could be suffering from any of the above symptoms and/or dysfunctions, please take a moment to complete the Sleep Disorder test.


Ingraham, Paul. The role of sleep deprivation in chronic pain, especially muscle pain. Updated May 3 2016 (first published 2008).

National Sleep Foundation website

Mullington JM, Simpson N, Ph.D., 1 Meier-Ewert HK, Haack M.  Sleep Loss and Inflammation. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Oct; 24(5): 775–784.

Alhola, Paula, Polo-Kantola, Paivi. Sleep Deprivation: Impact on Cognitive Performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007 Oct; 3(5): 553–567.