How to Sleep Well With Pain

Why can’t I sleep?

It’s very common to find that poor sleep makes your pain seem worse. You can find yourself in a vicious cycle where pain makes sleeping difficult, and poor sleep worsens pain.

It’s likely that there are a number of causes of your sleep difficulties. Here are six triggers often found by people living with pain:

  • Your MEDICATION for pain or low mood makes you drowsy in the day so you sleep at irregular times
  • You WORRY about how your lack of sleep will affect you the next day
  • You are NOT IN A REGULAR ROUTINE so your mind and body are confused about when it is time to rest
  • You are NOT COMFORTABLE in your bed or you are DISTURBED by sounds or light in your bedroom
  • You are experiencing MOOD CHANGES that create tension in your body
  • You NOTICE your pain more as there are no other distractions at night

We’ve pulled together some tips below which could increase your chances of enjoying a good night’s sleep.

Establish a night-time routine.

sleep-boardPreparing your mind and body for sleep sounds simple, but it can be very effective. Getting into a regular routine before going to bed can trigger your body to expect bedtime and can make you start to relax and become sleepy.

A simple night-time routine could include:

  • Having a warm bath or shower about an hour or two before bed
  • Relaxing on the sofa
  • Face washing/teeth brushing
  • Reading
  • Un/dressing for bed

Other ways to relax and prepare for bed can include writing a journal about your day, doing yoga or meditation, or chilling out to your favourite songs.

Food and drink

Eating a heavy meal late in the evening can cause sleeplessness, while caffeine and alcohol can have a stimulant effect on the body and brain.  So, it’s best to avoid these in the 3-4 hours before going to bed.  Why not swap the late night tea and chocolate biscuit for a warm, milky drink or herbal tea, and see if it makes a difference to you?

Getting good support

When you are living with pain, a good bed and the right sleeping position is important. It gives your spine support and will help your body to rest. Learning and regularly using simple relaxation skills also helps soothe your mind.

To find out more about beds and mattresses visit

Activity Levels

Like many people with persistent pain, you may be avoiding physical activity because you are worried it will make your pain worse.

These fears are normal and understandable – when you live with pain, the last thing that you want to do is aggravate it further! It may be encouraging for you to know that getting fit and staying active is actually good for your pain and for your sleep.

Here are some of the ways physical activity can help your sleep:

  • You’ll feel less sleepy in the day
  • It increases your drive for sleep at night
  • It can ease stress and tension
  • It helps to keep your ‘body clock’ in balance
Go tech-free

Bedrooms are a place for sleep, rest and intimacy. Your bedroom should be a calm, relaxed space with no disruption from technology. Doing non-sleep activities in bed like watching TV, playing games, working or studying can be bad for sleep. The more things your brain associates your bed with, the less it thinks of sleep when you are there. As an additional no-no, the LED displays glow with blue light which suppresses the sleep hormone, melatonin, making it harder to relax and fall asleep.

Sleep Well with Pain Leaflet

This leaflet from draws on recent research and offers ideas and techniques that people with pain have found helpful.

It looks at five areas:

  • daily routines
  • activity levels
  • food and drink choices
  • night-time routines
  • helping mind and body to rest

and provides simple-to-follow guidance for patients to develop the skills they need to start getting a good night’s sleep.


Chronic pain affects almost one in four people across Northern Ireland. Local Health and Social Care Board figures estimate that 400,000 people are living with some form of persistent pain.