We’ve all been there. You’ve had a tough workout, helped a friend move or went out dancing with friends. You’ve used muscles you don’t normally use, or you’ve pulled something. And now you’re in pain.

And when do you feel it the most? In the middle of the night, when you’re trying to sleep.

While most aches fade quickly, for those who suffer from chronic back pain, this can be a typical night. Between 50 and 90 percent of people with chronic pain claim they don’t sleep well. Most people wake up feeling like they had never even gone to bed.

Difficulty falling asleep

To understand how chronic back pain can affect sleep, let’s start by examining the process of falling asleep.

Most people have a process associated with going to sleep at night. This routine could include keeping the room cool and quiet, turning down the lights or shutting off your phone and tv, all in an effort to relax.

Here’s the problem. When you cut out all distractions, it can leave you with only one thing to focus on — the pain you’re feeling. As you lay awake failing to fall asleep, it can quickly become a stressful sleep environment.

Difficulty sleeping through the night

Research has shown that those in pain, especially lower back pain, may experience several microarousals every hour. Microarousals change your sleep state to a lighter sleep state. This intrusion disrupts normal sleep patterns without you even knowing it.

Microarousals result in non-restorative sleep, meaning the quality of sleep is often unrefreshing. This allows for diminished energy, depressed mood, fatigue and worsening pain.

It’s a vicious cycle

If you have chronic back pain, chances are you aren’t sleeping very well. In turn, if you aren’t sleeping well, lack of sleep can make pain feel more severe. It is a constant question of whether the pain is derived from a sleep disorder, or is the sleep disorder caused by the pain?

The “cycle” that begins to occur is as the pain keeps you awake, the lack of sleep makes you feel the pain more severely, in turn affecting your sleep even more. Poor sleep due to pain one night makes you more likely to experience more problems the next night, and so on.

Chronic back pain can be one of the main reason that some wake up multiple times a night, resulting in a decrease in sleep quantity and quality. Sleep deprivation can lower your pain threshold and pain tolerance and cause existing pain to feel worse.

Sleep deprivation also affects many parts of your life

Not getting enough sleep can have an effect on your entire life and well-being. Not getting adequate amounts of sleep can affect:

  • Your job
  • Your family
  • Your relationships
  • Your eating habits
  • Your stress levels
  • Your overall happiness and health

A normal night’s sleep goes through three phases: light sleep, deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement), and this cycle is repeated three to five times a night. Getting the right amounts of deep sleep and REM sleep are crucial to making sure you feel refreshed in the morning. Chronic pain can interrupt these cycles without you even knowing it.

Sleep positions that help ease back pain and reduce pressure

  • Back sleepers – Place a pillow under your knees to keep the natural curve in your spine.
  • Stomach sleepers – Place a pillow under your lower abdomen or pelvis to relieve pressure.
  • Side sleepers – Keep your legs bent slightly upward toward your chest, placing a body pillow between your legs.

If you or someone you love isn’t getting enough sleep due to back pain or other pain disorders, give the pain specialists at Cedar Rapids Pain Associates a call today at (319) 540-8251 to schedule your appointment.