Painsomnia & The Surprising Consequences for Long-Term Sleep Loss

woman in bed with painsomnia.jpg

For those who live with chronic pain – whether due to injury, aging, medical condition or a combination of these – painsomnia can be an exhausting, repetitive experience. Just as we once had “Brangelina” – the so-called power couple of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – “painsomnia” is the combined name for the inability to sleep due to pain.

While the name may sound amusing, the condition is anything but. Chronic pain sufferers, how many nights have you laid awake trying to find the best way to sleep with back pain? Or the best position for sleeping with neck pain or leg pain?  

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Research shows you have a lot of company, and there are steps you can take to break up the pain/sleep duo.

64 Percent of Those with Chronic Pain Affected

Many US adults report losing sleep periodically. In fact, in a 2014 study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 45 percent of Americans said poor or insufficient sleep affected their activities at least once within a given week.

Yet those living with chronic pain report that their sleep is interrupted on a routine basis. A second study conducted by the same group in 2015 surveyed over 1,000 US adults and discovered that 21 percent were living with chronic pain. Of those, 64 percent reported a lack of sufficient sleep often or always.

Says Dr. Timothy Roehrs (PhD) who worked on the 2015 study, “Clinicians and pain sufferers know that pain and sleep problems present together and aggravate each other.”

Fatigue is Only the First Step

No one should be shocked to learn that painsomnia has the potential to result in chronic fatigue. What may be surprising, however, is that there are additional consequences of long-term sleep loss that could have other, more serious impacts.

Beyond just being tired, long-term sleep deprivation can lead to:

  • Higher Stress Levels – among those in the 2015 study who experienced constant pain, 23 percent reported their stress levels as severe or very severe. In contrast, among those with no pain, only seven percent said they were severely stressed.  

  • Less Joy – fully half of chronic pain sufferers say that pain inhibits their ability to enjoy life.

  • Reduced Achievement 52 percent of those with chronic pain indicate that lack of sleep interferes with their work, and 46 percent say it interferes with their daily activities.

  • More Disorders – one of the study’s most revealing statistics is that those with chronic pain are three times as likely to be diagnosed with a sleep disorder. That compares with just six percent of all others.

  • Poorer Overall Health – only 26 percent of chronic pain sufferers report having excellent or very good general health. That compares to 61 percent of those with no pain.

Paths to Relief

From medical conditions like arthritis to musculoskeletal pain caused by injury, the root cause of pain-driven sleep loss can have a variety of origins. Luckily, despite the cause, research suggests there is hope for achieving some relief. The Sleep in America study reports that the association between greater motivation to sleep and achieving longer sleep duration was significant among those with chronic pain.

What constitutes greater “motivation”? For starters, observing better sleep hygiene – i.e., good sleep habits. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these tips:

  • Establish a sleep-wake schedule and stick to it.

  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine – like yoga or light stretching.

  • Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. 

  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.

  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

  • Don’t eat anything more than a light, healthy snack close to bedtime. 

  • Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. 

  • Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime. 

Beyond sleep hygiene, specific treatments can provide benefit as well. Statistics collected by RS Medical on over 7,300 patients who have used the RS-4i® Sequential Stimulator, an electrotherapy device, reveal that patients with musculoskeletal pain experienced a 36 percent improvement in sleep after 21 or more days of treatment with the RS-4i.

sleep pain interference infographic.png

The Take-Away

Experts suggest taking an active role in managing your pain, as putting that off can make things worse. If you haven’t seen your health care professional recently about your painsomnia, it could be worth the trip. A few questions to consider discussing include:

  • What’s the best sleep hygiene program for your condition and needs?

  • Is there a medication or herbal supplement that might help?

  • Could therapies like massage or acupuncture, or yoga help your condition?

  • Could an electrotherapy device provide relief for your condition?

What has helped you cope with painsomnia? Are there other questions that you asked your health care provider that proved beneficial? We welcome any feedback.

Related Resources

Blog: When is a Spinal Cord Implant the Right Choice?
Web: RS-4i® Plus Sequential Stimulator


This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare professional.

Donna PetersonComment