Improving Sleep When You Have Chronic Pain

Topic Overview

If you have chronic pain, such as with fibromyalgia, lower back pain, or complex regional pain syndrome, you may have a hard time sleeping or you may wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed. Some experts believe poor sleep can make pain worse.

Improving your sleep can still be possible even with chronic pain. Here are some things to try:

  • Take a warm bath or shower 1 to 2 hours before bed and gently massage problem areas. This can help reduce muscle tension and discomfort that get in the way of sleeping.  
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine for 4 to 6 hours or longer before bedtime. These can lead to poor sleep.
  • Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Do not read, eat, work, or watch television in bed. Use your bed only for sleeping and sex.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
  • Make sure your mattress provides good support. A firm, but not hard, surface is best to support the spine's curves.
  • Block out all sound and light that may disturb your sleep. Try using a sleep mask and earplugs.
  • Getting regular exercise can make it easier to fall asleep and help you sleep deeper during the night. Aquatic therapy can be a good option if you have chronic pain.    
  • Avoiding twisting or bending when getting in and out of bed if you have low back pain
  • Improve how you cope with chronic pain that gets in the way of sleeping. 

You may be more comfortable at night if you use pillows for support:

  • If you sleep on your side, placing a pillow between your knees can reduce pressure on your back. Hugging a pillow may also be helpful if you have shoulder pain or have problems with arm numbness.
  • If you sleep on your back, support your neck on a pillow and have a pillow under your arm or knees.
  • If you sleep on your stomach, bend one leg to the side and use a thin pillow under your leg and stomach.
Shows proper sleeping positions with pillows for support


Adaptation Date: 2/10/2021

Adapted By: OSUWMC

Adaptation Reviewed By: Patient Education