Living With Insomnia and Pain

Sleepless in Painville?

Most people will experience a sleep disorder at some point in their lives. Insomnia (in-SOM-ne-ah) is the most common type of sleep problems (disorders). Insomnia is a problem with falling asleep, and once asleep, staying asleep. As a result, people may get too little sleep or have poor-quality sleep leading to daytime fatigue and feeling unfocused and moody when they are awake.


According to The National Center for Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR) at the National Institutes of Health, 30% to 40% of adults report symptoms of insomnia each year. Insomnia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing). Acute insomnia is common and often is brought on by situations such as stress at work, family pressures, or a traumatic event. Acute insomnia lasts for days or weeks and is considered “primary,” or its own entity—pain is not a factor, nor is another sleep disorder.

It is estimated that 10% to 15% of adults report having chronic insomnia, which is insomnia that lasts for 3 out of 7 days a week for a month or longer. “Secondary” insomnia, most often chronic, is considered a side effect of another problem, such as chronic pain. Other conditions that are associated with secondary insomnia include depression, heartburn and indigestion, and asthma.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) also reports similar estimates, noting that about 30% of adults show symptoms of some type of insomnia, while 10% experience insomnia that is severe enough to have daytime consequences such as fatigue, cognitive impairment, and mood disorders.

What is a Normal Sleep Cycle?

Doctors split a normal night’s sleep into 4 stages. Each stage represents a progressively deeper phase of sleep. People with pain will experience disruptions in their sleep throughout the night—during stages I and II (light to moderate sleep) and stages III and IV (deep sleep). People with insomnia, on the other hand, have a different pattern. The pain may wake you up later into the night, preventing you from getting the important deep stages of sleep.

Deep sleep is very important for rest because it is typically when you experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This is a type of sleep where you can experience dreams. The brain is highly activated, and this is actually when you’re receiving the best quality of rest. Lack of REM sleep has many repercussions—such as daytime fatigue or sleepiness.

Daytime Symptoms of Insomnia

  • Daytime sleepiness and lack of energy (fatigue)
  • Feeling anxious, depressed, or irritable (mood disorders)
  • Trouble focusing on tasks, paying attention, learning, and remembering (cognitive impairment)

Insomnia can affect a person at any age, but it most commonly seen in the elderly and women. For younger children and teenagers, staring at electronic screens (iPads, smart phones, laptops etc) before going to bed, can also cause difficulty with falling asleep. 

As with any disorder, if the symptoms of insomnia—fatigue, daytime weariness, mood changes—begin to affect your ability to function and work during the day, you should consult your doctor and seek treatment.

Updated on: 11/19/15
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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Insomnia?