3 Ways sleep can help the pain go away
By Jason Wooden, PhD | September 24, 2023
Is sleeping the pain away a myth?
So, is this just another one of those myths or does sleep really help the pain “go away”?
After all, we’re not talking about a hangover…
Pain is a message from your body that something is not right whether it’s a tingling, stinging, burning, pricking, or an aching sensation. It can range from a mild annoyance to something that’s really debilitating.
And pain can really ruin your days…and nights.
Did you know it’s estimated that worldwide 1 in 5 adults struggle with pain. While back pain is the most common type, many people also suffer from headaches, joint pain from arthritis, and nerve pain from damaged nerves.
If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for things you can do for pain relief besides taking a pill. Count me in if something as simple as sleeping away the pain can help.
Whether it’s something you suspect from personal experience or you’ve heard about it from a friend, we’re going to take a look at the sleep-pain connection and how a good night’s rest can give you some pain relief.
How sleep can help the pain go away
Like other things in the body, there are many connections between sleep and pain. In fact, they appear to share similar pathways and chemical messengers in the body.
So, it should be no surprise that there are multiple ways in which sleep can help the pain go away:
1) Not sleeping can make pain worse
Did you know that insomnia can actually make your pain worse? It can lower your pain threshold and tolerance.
Researchers have found that poor sleep affects pain centers on the brain which can change how you perceive and react to discomfort. One study with healthy volunteers found that after 24 hours of sleep deprivation sensitivity to pain from pressure and cold was heightened.
2) Sleep helps the body heal
Another way in which sleep can help make the pain “go away” is by aiding the body’s natural healing process. We’ve all heard how important sleep is for repair and recovery.
3) Sleep helps fight the effects of stress on the body
Regular sleep is a natural way to lower stress hormones and fight the effects of stress on the body.
Research confirms that sleep can help improve pain symptoms
So, is there any direct evidence that sleep can help make pain “go away”?
Given the many connections between sleep and pain, it should be no surprise that studies show that when people sleep better their pain symptoms are improved.
One study involving 367 older adults with osteoarthritis examined if improving their sleep would also improve their pain symptoms. The researchers found that short-term improvements in sleep quality resulted in long-term improvements in pain and arthritis symptoms.
More recently, researchers at the University of Sydney analyzed the data from 24 separate clinical trials involving people with osteoarthritis and spinal pain. The result showed that helping these patients sleep better improved their pain by 14% compared to control or placebo.
So, yes, research shows that sleeping better can help patients experience less pain.
It’s not hocus pocus, just how your body is wired.
How to sleep better with pain
Okay, there’s a catch 22 we need to talk about. It turns out sleep and pain have a bidirectional relationship which means one can cause more of the other.
As mentioned earlier, poor sleep can worsen pain symptoms. It’s pretty obvious how pain can keep you from sleeping at night as you toss and turn to get more comfortable.
If you’re not careful, you can get into a downward spiral.
So, what can you do to keep pain from derailing your nights so you can sleep the pain away?
Fortunately, there are plenty of practical things that can help:
One of the most commonly used remedies, your options include popular over the counter relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil). There are also powerful prescription painkillers such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and Vicodin.
However, you should be aware of the downsides since long-term use has been linked to many health problems. Also, opioids are highly addictive and over time you need increasingly higher amounts of the drug to get the same effect.
Natural pain relievers
There’s a variety of natural supplements that may help with pain because of their anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, relaxation, or other pain-relieving effects. It’s important to keep in mind that some have been tested more than others. Learn more
Among the better known ones are:
- Peppermint essential oil
- Lavender essential oil
- Rosemary essential oil
Improve your bed support
An old “out of shape” mattress can lead to more aches and pains. Find a mattress that works better for your body type and the way you sleep.
Here are a couple websites that review mattresses:
Best mattresses based on in-depth reviews (ConsumersAdvocate.org)
Best mattresses for side sleepers (SavvySleeper.org)
Studies have shown that music can promote relaxation and help relieve pain. Learn more
The way massage therapy helps relieve pain is through relaxing painful muscles and joints, reducing stress and anxiety, and overriding pain signals. Learn more
Studies have shown Tai chi can help with pain. It uses breath control, meditation, and gentle movements to stretch and strengthen muscles. It can also relax the body and reduce stress. Learn more
Try an anti-inflammatory diet
These diets have grown in popularity as a natural way to help the body heal. They focus on avoiding specific foods shown to increase inflammation in the body and consuming more foods believed to fight inflammation. Learn more
Pain, NIH website (Source)
Pain as a global public health priority, 2011, BMC Public Health, 11:770. (Source)
Pain and Sleep, 2023, Sleepfoundation.org (Source)
Poor sleep can change your reaction to pain, 2019, Harvard health Publishing (Source)
Total sleep deprivation increases pain sensitivity, impairs conditioned pain modulation and facilitates temporal summation of pain in healthy participants. PLoS One. 2019; 14(12): e0225849. (Source)
Pain in Times of Stress. Malays J Med Sci. 2015 Dec; 22(Spec Issue): 52–61. (Source)
Short-term improvement in insomnia symptoms predicts long-term improvements in sleep, pain, and fatigue in older adults with comorbid osteoarthritis and insomnia Pain. 2014 Aug;155(8):1547-1554. (Source)
Sleep interventions for osteoarthritis and spinal pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage Volume 27, Issue 2, February 2019, Pages 196-218. (Source)
Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief. Surg Neurol Int. 2010; 1: 80. (Source)
12 natural ways to relieve pain, 2019, MedicalNewsToday (Source)
Connect with us:
Better Sleep Simplified® was founded as a place for you to get clear and well-researched information.
Our goal is to make sure you know about your options so that you take action sooner rather than later.
Find out what you're doing right and what to change
Watch and Learn
Hear from experts, sleep specialists, people with insomnia, and others
This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to them.
Important: BetterSleepSimplified.com is for informational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a physician for sleep and health concerns. See additional information.