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Can Lack Of Sleep Cause Muscle And Joint Pain?

Have you ever woken up from a restless night feeling stiff and sore? Most people who wake up with muscle pain in the mornings will blame their mattress. But it might not be your sleeping environment that’s causing muscle pain when sleeping.


At West Pennant Hills Physiotherapy and Sports Injuries Centre, we see a lot of patients who are experiencing muscle and joint pain in bed at night and on waking in the morning. Shoulder, neck, and back pain are the most common complaints.


Sometimes this is caused by a poor sleeping position or an unsupportive mattress, and we can give advice on how to improve these to get a better night’s sleep.


However, many of our patients are surprised to learn that not getting enough sleep is the main reason for their pain. Studies have shown that there’s a clear link between sleep deprivation and pain, and, in particular, that many people suffering from chronic back pain and muscle aches do not have healthy sleeping patterns.


Why Lack of Sleep Increases Pain


Research shows that insufficient sleep and low-quality sleep increase the risk of developing widespread pain, particularly as we age.


A three-year study carried out by researchers at Keele University in the UK found that non-refreshing sleep was the factor most strongly linked with the development of pain that was not linked to specific sources.


A separate study into adult women suffering from fibromyalgia found that there was a strong link between sleep problems and the risk of developing the condition.


So the evidence is clear that there’s a clear link between sleep quality and pain of all kinds – not just muscle aches. Sleeping in the wrong position or on a bad mattress is not necessarily to blame. But how exactly can a lack of sleep cause muscle and joint pain?


There are three main reasons at play:

1. Poor sleep decreases pain tolerance.

2. Poor sleep increases the intensity of pain.

3. Poor sleep increases your risk of developing painful chronic conditions.


Scientists do not yet fully understand the link between poor sleep quality and these causes of increased pain, but it’s thought that it may be due to changes in the nervous system when the body doesn’t get enough sleep. These changes cause oversensitivity, meaning that our pain tolerance is lowered.


Lack of sleep can also cause inflammation in the body, which will often result in muscle aches and pains and can exacerbate inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.


Insomnia is also known to impair athletic performance, which can increase the risk of muscle and joint injuries due to sports, or even an everyday activity such as running to catch a bus.


The body’s healing processes are most active during sleep, so if you’re recovering from a soft-tissue injury, not getting enough sleep may mean you need a longer time to recover.


Causes of Muscle Pain When Sleeping


If you’re suffering from muscle pain when you go to bed, this can make it more difficult for you to get comfortable and fall asleep. It can also affect the quality of your sleep, increasing risk of night wakings and disturbed sleep.


It’s easy to see how many people can end up in a vicious cycle: You can’t get a good night’s sleep due to pain. You then wake up exhausted the next day and even more stiff and sore because you’ve not had enough sleep. And so the cycle continues.


If you’re experiencing muscle pain at night when you’re trying to sleep, there may be several reasons for this. Causes of pain might include:



It’s normal to feel a bit stiff at night if you’ve spent the day doing a lot of physical activity you’re not used to. However, if this pain doesn’t improve, you should seek advice from a doctor or physiotherapist.


Aches and pains tend to increase as we age, but muscle pain when sleeping isn’t an inevitable part of getting older. Physiotherapy can help you to improve your muscle strength and flexibility, reducing stiffness and pain.


How to Relieve Back Muscle Pain While Sleeping


If you’re waking up in the morning with a sore back, the first step is to check your sleeping environment.


A bad mattress is often to blame for back pain during sleeping. Your mattress should hold and support your whole body without sinking or causing pressure at points like your hips and shoulders.


To get personalised advice on ensuring a good sleep environment and reducing back muscle pain while sleeping, it’s best to speak with a professional. A physiotherapist can also give you advice on sleeping positions and tips for reducing strain on your back during sleep.


How to Relieve Neck and Shoulder Muscle Pain After Sleeping


If you wake up with a stiff neck and shoulder pain, your pillow might be to blame. It’s important to choose a pillow that keeps your head and neck in alignment.


If you’ve slept in an awkward position, some simple neck stretches can help to relieve stiffness. You can also try applying a heat pack to relax your muscles and relieve pain.

Normally, a few small changes to your sleeping environment and some morning exercises should help to relieve neck and shoulder muscle pain after sleeping. But if your pain isn’t improving, seek advice from a doctor or physiotherapist.


Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep


Because pain and sleep are so intrinsically linked, it’s important to do whatever you can to increase your chances of having a restful night’s sleep and getting enough hours sleep each night.


Giving yourself a set bedtime is a good place to start. As well as setting an alarm to get up in the morning, consider setting an alarm at night to remind you when it’s time for bed.


Limit caffeinated drinks, avoiding them entirely after 2 p.m. You should also try implementing a wind-down ritual in the evening to relax your body and mind, perhaps with a warm bath, a milky drink, and reading a book. Try not to use electronic devices in the evening as the stimulation can make it difficult for you to sleep.


Contact Us for a Physiotherapy Appointment


If muscle and joint pains are making it difficult for you to drift off at night, or you’re waking during the night with pain, physiotherapy may help.


Your therapist will use a range of techniques, including massage, joint mobilisation, heat application, exercises, and advice to improve circulation and healing in the affected areas and relieve muscle and joint pains.


Contact us today to book an appointment.