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Airing Pain 104: How Sleep And Chronic Pain Interact

More pain, less sleep; less sleep, more pain – The relationship is a complex one, but what are the mechanisms behind the link between sleep and pain?

This edition of Airing Pain is funded by the Constance Travis Charitable Trust and the Isabella Memorial Trust.

Sleep can be a sanctuary from life; a way for the brain to decompress and begin restorative processes, but for those living with chronic pain, the pain/sleep cycle can become a vicious one.

In this edition of Airing Pain, Paul speaks to clinical and health psychologist Dr Nicola Tang about how polysomnography, a method of measuring the biophysiological changes that occur during sleep, can suggest aspects of brain functioning during sleep cycles.

Dr Tang explains how the deeper stages of sleep, like Rapid Eye Movement, are linked to pain sensation and emotional processing, and when you are deprived of these particular stages of sleep there is evidence of increased levels of pain sensitivity.

Paul also speaks to Dr Sue Peacock, consultant health psychologist and author of Sleeping with Pain (2016), about how she found sleep to be one of the major issues among pain clinic patients and her non-pharmacological approaches. Dr Peacock discusses how focusing on restructuring sleep patterns resulted in nearly all patients having improved quality of sleep.

Issues covered in this programme include: CBT: cognitive behavioural therapy, dementia, exercise, family and relationships, fatigue, fibromyalgia, habit, insomnia, polysomnography, psychological approaches to pain management, relaxation, residential pain management programmes and worry.


  • Dr Nicole Tang, Clinical and Health Psychologist, University of Warwick, Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society.
  • Dr Sue Peacock, Consultant Health Psychologist, Associate Fellow of The British Psychological Society and author of Sleeping with Pain: Strategies for a restful night from a pain management expert.

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