Why Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Body Ache?

More often than not, we tend to ditch our blissful sleep time for other ‘important’ things, such as catching up on work, socializing, watching a new movie that just came to Netflix or reading the last few pages of that ridiculously addictive novel to find out whether the butler did it.

What we don’t realize, however, is that this may not be the smartest decision. It’s common knowledge that a lack of sleep causes side effects like drowsiness (duh!), irritability, weight gain etc. However, recent studies have also linked it to more serious problems, such as severe pain.

Pain and Sleep Deprivation

A number of studies have established a link between sleep deprivation and pain occurrence and tolerance. It was initially believed that a lack of sleep led to muscle aches and joint pains. Several studies also showed that sleep-related problems, like insomnia, increased the risk and occurrence of migraines.

More recent studies showed that people who had insufficient sleep also showed the same symptoms as those who suffered from insomnia. This showed that a lack of sleep or its insufficiency can have measurable negative effects on the body. Several studies tested the sleeping patterns of people suffering from lower back pain. It showed that most of them did not have a healthy sleep cycle. Similar experiments led to a debate over whether sleep causes pain or if pain affects sleep.


(Photo Credit : Sleep Review)

While there is no conclusive proof for that, the popular belief is that the two are interrelated. Pain and sleep deprivation form a vicious cycle, feeding off each other. One fuels the other, leading to a dangerous negative feedback loop.

Why does the Pain Occur?

The mystery behind the occurrence of this pain has yet to be deciphered by scientists. However, I’m going to take you through the popular and most commonly accepted hypothesis.

A lack of or insufficient sleep leads to a condition called central sensitization. This is a condition of the central nervous system wherein the body becomes highly sensitive and reactive. Therefore, even the slightest stimulus can lead to a comparatively larger reaction. This leads to us experiencing more pain and having a reduced tolerance to it. A lack of sleep also leads to the release of molecules that are pro-inflammatory. This condition is known as systemic inflammation. As expected, this leads to aches in the muscles and joints.

Sport injury backpain rubbing

Sleep deprivation causes body ache (Photo Credit : TB studio / Shutterstock)

While there may be no solid proof as to the mechanism of this pain, there is ample proof to substantiate the claim that sleep deprivation and disturbances in the sleep cycle do cause pain. Apart from pain, a lack of sleep also leads to other serious complaints, including memory loss, slowed reflexes, heart diseases, weakened immunity, etc. Therefore, it is advisable to put aside that thrilling book for the next day and catch up on your much-needed sleep. Believe me, your body will thank you!


  1. Pain Science
  2. HuffPost
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Mahak Jalan has a BSc degree in Zoology from Mumbai University in India. She loves animals, books and biology. She has a general assumption that everyone shares her enthusiasm about the human body! An introvert by nature, she finds solace in music and writing.

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