Sleep Apnea and Back Pain: What’s the Connection?

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Reviewed by

Raj Dasgupta, MD

Many people suffer from back pain during sleep, with insomnia affecting 78% of those with low back pain. Sleep apnea, a disorder affecting 26% of adults aged 30-70, can worsen this pain. Poor sleep from sleep apnea can increase back pain, leading to a cycle of discomfort.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea and Back Pain

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, snoring, interrupted breathing during sleep, and sudden awakenings.

Risk factors include obesity, family history, narrow airways, smoking, and diabetes. Ongoing research is exploring additional risk factors.

What’s the Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Back Pain?

Sleep apnea and back pain often coexist, though one doesn’t directly cause the other. However, untreated sleep apnea can intensify back pain by heightening sensitivity to pain. Conversely, chronic back pain can disrupt sleep, forming a vicious cycle.

Lack of sleep can worsen pain tolerance and reduce the effectiveness of painkillers, while painkillers themselves can disrupt sleep. Sleep position can also contribute to back pain.

Studies suggest a connection between sleep apnea and bone health, particularly in the vertebrae, with lower oxygen levels, acidosis, inflammation, and hormonal changes being potential factors. This association underscores the importance of addressing sleep apnea for overall health and managing back pain effectively.

How Poor Sleep Quality Worsens Chronic Pain

Poor sleep, especially from conditions like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), can make chronic pain worse, such as lower back pain. When we don’t sleep well, our bodies produce more inflammation, worsening pain. Also, poor sleep reduces the effectiveness of natural painkillers in our bodies.

Treatment for Back Pain and Sleep Apnea

To alleviate back pain and sleep apnea, you can take various approaches:

  1. Hot Baths: Soaking in a hot bath can help reduce tension, soothe aches, and relieve stress, potentially improving both conditions.

  2. Exercise: Regular physical activity, especially focusing on strengthening lower back, abdominal, and oblique muscles, can alleviate pressure on the spine and improve mobility, aiding in the treatment of both back pain and sleep apnea.

  3. Weight Loss: Obesity is strongly linked to both conditions, so shedding excess weight through healthy diet and exercise can significantly reduce symptoms.

  4. Quit Smoking: Smoking exacerbates sleep apnea by causing airway dysfunction and inflammation, so quitting smoking is crucial for improving sleep quality.

  5. CPAP Machines: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines are effective in treating sleep apnea by keeping the airway open during sleep, thus improving symptoms and potentially reducing associated health risks.

It’s essential to consult a healthcare provider for personalized treatment options tailored to your specific needs, as untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

Learn more:


1. Is there a connection between back pain and sleep apnea?

Yes, poor sleep quality from sleep apnea can worsen chronic pain conditions like back pain. Inflammation from untreated sleep apnea can also contribute to musculoskeletal discomfort.

2. Can a sleep disorder cause back pain?

Yes, sleep disorders like insomnia or restless leg syndrome can cause or worsen back pain. Poor sleeping positions and insufficient support from mattresses or pillows can strain the spine, leading to discomfort.

3. Can sleep apnea cause muscle aches and pains?

Yes, disrupted sleep patterns from sleep apnea can lead to insufficient rest for muscles, causing aches and pains. Low oxygen levels in the blood due to interrupted breathing during sleep apnea episodes can also contribute to muscular fatigue and soreness.

4. Can sleep apnea cause inflammation in the body?

Yes, untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) significantly contributes to systemic inflammation. OSA leads to oxidative stress on cells due to repeated cycles of interrupted breathing, leading to inflammation in the body.

Need professional help to diagnose and address your sleep problems? Schedule an online consultation with sleep specialist Dr. Owen Napleton.

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