How Not Enough Sleep Can Add To Your Back Pain


For the first time, scientists at the University of California in Berkeley, have recently discovered neural ‘glitches’ in the brains of people who have not slept enough. These glitches are capable of intensifying and prolonging your pain.

You have all read about the opioid epidemic that is affecting people globally.

Painkillers can be addictive and often don’t help back pain


Sleep loss, chronic pain and opioid use (such as codeine) to try to help with that pain can all contribute to a never ending cycle – Pain leads to poor sleep leads to taking more opioid drugs to help with the pain that seems to be preventing that sleep that leads to health problems of their own. Opioids mess with you mind and can become addictive and often you keep taking them because you think they must help when really they are not! Better to address sleep deprivation than increase the strength and use of painkillers of this type.



The out come of this study in The Journal of Neuroscience 28th January 2019, is to recommend that sleep is put at the centre of patient care.

An experiment showed that the nerve endings that pick up on pain signals and decide whether they are detrimental to you are disrupted by lack of sleep. Thus the naturally occurring neural mechanisms in your brain that stimulate natural pain relief processes do not function properly. Usually when you are in pain, the brain releases dopamine which helps to relieve pain. The reduction in this activity plus increased pain sensitivity when you lack sleep both contribute to you feeling pain more acutely and for longer.

Sleep lack also slows activity in the part of the brain that evaluates pain signals coming into the brain that inform us about the context of the pain so we can prepare to respond – it the pain just an irritation or is it going to affect our proper functioning if we don’t stop it.

Experiments that looked at over 230 people who reported their hours spent sleeping at night and related that to their day to day pain levels showed that even minor changes in sleep pattern were correlated with pain sensitivity changes. They felt pain sooner than those who had had a good night’s sleep.

If you already have pain and you lie awake at night for a while, therefore, you are more likely to feel more pain than if you had had a good night’s sleep.

cat sleeping

When you are asleep, the brain releases a natural pain killer that can help to lower pain so you can manage it better.


So if you are in pain, try to do as much as you can to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep – simple things like making the room as dark as you can; turn off all light sources like alarm clocks or mobile phones, be warm but not too stuffy, don’t drink too close to going to bed, be relaxed when you go to bed and if you really can’t sleep, try breathing exercises and relaxation techniques but don’t lie there worrying that you can’t sleep!