Have you ever noticed that you do not feel pain when you sleep? While writing some of these articles, I remembered a handful of times when my back hurt or something hurt, but it seemed to go away when I slept. This got me thinking about if you can feel pain while sleeping. Whatever is painful has not gone away; does our brain ignore it?
If you make it to REM sleep, then no, you cannot feel existing persistent pain, or acute pain, while asleep. New or worsening pain can snap you out of sleep and is a survival instinct you cannot turn off. More extreme pain can prevent you from sleeping at all. Thousands of people suffer from chronic pain from different afflictions that can prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep. This can create pain-related insomnia.
Extreme and sudden pain may wake you up, but existing pain signals are usually ignored while sleeping. While sleeping, your brain may be disconnected from the world, but it can take something extreme to alert you back to reality. It is possible to be asleep and aware of your surroundings.
Can you feel pain physical pain while sleeping? I think of the toothache vs. the baseball bat analogy. Your body will “forget” about your sensitivity to pain from the toothache, but if someone whacks you in the leg with a baseball bat, you will wake up screaming!
Can You Feel Pain While Sleeping?
Even though our brain emits delta waves and disconnects the sensory neurons responsible for pain signals to travel through, our brain still maintains some sense of awareness of the outside world. The usual sensory inputs get ignored, but new nociceptive pain can immediately break our sleep cycle and put the body into alert status. Most mammals use it as a survival tool to protect us from predators during sleep.
Chemicals, pressure, or thermal changes in your body create nociceptive pain. This type of pain threshold is usually well localized and centralized in pain; think your arm falling off the side of the bed and slapping the bed frame, or maybe your child or partner turning over and laying on your arm.
Nociceptive pain is the most common type of pain felt while sleeping. It occurs when our bodies experience chemical, pressure, or thermal changes that trigger a response in our nervous system and cause pain. For example, if you’re sleeping on your side and someone lays too close, their body heat may cause your arm to become uncomfortably warm.
This would cause much confusion and concern for someone experiencing pain while sleeping. Pain can manifest in many physical, mental, and emotional forms. It is not uncommon for people to experience dream-related sensations that may resemble physical pain while asleep. This type of sensation can be uncomfortable or even frightening to the individual having the experience. The exact cause of this is still up for debate.
Loud and sudden noises can also wake you from this sleep, such as a cat knocking over the lamp on the nightstand. These are part of the survival instinct that should always be used while sleeping. If these types of pain or noises do not wake you up, you need to speak with your Doctor as soon as possible since your body is not alert to potential dangers while sleeping.
Why Don’t You Feel Pain When You Sleep?
During Slow Wave Sleep and REM Sleep, your eyes move around while your body does not. At this time, your body disconnects your limbs to prevent yourself from injury while dreaming since some dreams can be extremely vivid.
Two different chemicals in your brain work together to achieve the goal of paralyzing your muscles. These two chemicals are called gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine. To keep it simple, it has been proven in rats that these chemicals caused sleep paralysis by disengaging specific cells in the brain that kept your muscles active while awake.
Paralyzing your muscles during sleep is for your safety. During the dream states, you can experience genuine feelings and dreams. Nothing would stop you from running in bed if your muscles were still connected during these dreams! Crazy thought, I know.
Imagine a sleeping dog that starts making whimpering noises and then seems to start moving its legs. The same technique applies, except human brains are better at shutting down your muscles while sleeping, regardless of sleep position.
While paralyzed, pain receptors are disconnected, so only new or sudden pain can be felt. This is good for people with minor aches and pains to get some sleep.
How Pain Interrupts Your Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, two out of three people with chronic pain have pain-induced insomnia. This type of pain can bring new stimulation to the brain and can interrupt your sleep patterns. If pain is not allowing you to sleep, it can cause more pain-related issues and disruption in your REM sleep patterns. That is not a good thing.
It has been shown that people that suffer from sleep deprivation are more sensitive to pain at night. No one has a definitive reason for this, but it is true in studies. So having pain that does not let you sleep will not get any better and lead to insufficient sleep. This can lead to a sleep disorder and other chronic conditions.
If this describes you, then you need to seek medical attention. Do yourself a favor, skip the ads and other over-the-counter medications claiming otherwise, and seek genuine medical assistance. Working with a professional about any sleep disorder or other persistent pain at night will work better for you than any blog post, I promise.
While I am here to help, I am not a health professional! Any health conditions should be told to your medical professional. Poor sleep quality will lead to insufficient sleep hygiene that will negatively affect your sleep quality.
Why Over-the-Counter Sleep Medications are Bad for Pain
Nightly pain that can prevent you from sleeping can be a terrible situation. I genuinely feel sympathetic for you if you are currently suffering from this. Attempting to reach out for over-the-counter solutions may seem to work initially, but it can lead down an even more terrible road.
Seek professional medical attention, please, before reaching out for these. People that suffer from severe pain or high pain levels, may need some pain management included in their sleep routine. Regular exercise, deep breathing exercises, or some physical therapy may help with the pain.
Healthy people shouldn’t usually have to take pain medications as a treatment option for their sleep troubles. It should only be a temporary fix to a temporary situation. Symptoms like joint pain will heal eventually. Chronic pain patients, like cancer pain or pain after surgery, should subside in time. If not, please speak to your health professional.
Sleep medications introduce drugs into your body, creating sleepiness and making it easy to drift asleep. These drugs can not only be abused but can lead to death if you are not careful. While the first few times using this seems like a great solution to your sleep problems, it can cause a chemical dependence where you become addicted to the medications to get restful sleep. This further encourages abuse, and this kind of abuse can lead to more deadly outcomes.
If you are experiencing pain that is not allowing you to sleep, please, reach out to a medical professional and trust what they recommend. During my research, I have found many products and advertisers promising you some relief for this situation. Understand that they are spending money to reach you to buy their product. It is just product marketing. See a doctor and ask them what is best.
The Best Way to Get to Sleep When in Pain
Even the smallest of pains can stop you from getting into a deep sleep. What makes it worse is that it is harder to focus on something else when the house is quiet and you have nothing to focus on but the pain. Following the usual nightly routine may not be enough to grab some snooze time when you have some pain.
For most people, there is a nightly routine before they go to bed. Changes will have to be made to this routine if you suffer from chronic pain that inhibits your regular sleep cycle. Laying in bed and staring at the ceiling until you fall asleep does not work with pain. In this case, you should stay up until you are sleepy. Yes, staying up will help you sleep better!
Try these tips to get some great sleep when you suffer from pain.
- Only go to bed when you are tired. For most people, we have a set time that we go to bed. It is part of our internal clock to fall into the routine of having a constant bedtime. Going to bed when you are about to fall asleep anyway saves you from laying in a dark and quiet room with nothing to focus on but the pain.
- Change your Sleeping Position. Sleep on your left side if the pain is in your right arm. This will put your arm above your heart and help keep the pain minimal. While there may not be a way to eliminate the pain, we want to make it easier.
- Warm bath about an hour before bed. This will help relax your muscles and help you fall asleep faster. Regardless of what others say, do not hop out of a hot bath and into bed. The covers on your bed will trap all that extra heat and make you more uncomfortable than you think. Give your body time to relax while it acclimates to a lower room temperature before hopping into bed.
I wish there were a “one-size fits all” method to sleeping with some pain, but there isn’t. If you want to know if you can feel pain in your sleep, I hope I have answered that for you. Try these tips, and let me know what has helped you the most in the comments.
Can you feel pain while sleeping? New pain, yes. Sleep can ignore some more minor pain that you may suffer from. Yes, your brain is still aware of its surroundings to an extent, but for the most part, it tunes out most stimuli while sleeping. The brain has an alert system for survival, so new pain, intense pain, and other physical interactions can wake you up.
Taking drugs to cope with the pain that can prevent you from sleeping seems easy. This can lead to addictions and further problems down the road. If you suffer from pain preventing a good night’s sleep, don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional. Your body needs a great night’s sleep now and then to function correctly. If medication is the only way, please be sure it is professionally prescribed.
A few medical conditions can have enough pain to prevent your body from sleeping correctly. These can be treated with prescriptions from your Doctor, mostly. Please do not self-medicate.
Again, I have said this repeatedly: I am not a medical professional. While I was once registered as an emergency medical technician, this does not make me an expert in pain. It has only given me the experience of seeing what happens when people take medications into their own hands.
If you suffer from any sleep loss that gives you poor sleep quality and bad sleep hygiene, I hope this advice has helped you.
If you have found this article helpful and would like to learn more about sleep aids, check out my other article, The Only All-Natural Sleep Aids You Will Ever Need.