Are Your Back Pain Medications Ruining Your Sleep?

Can you relieve your spine pain and get a good night’s rest? Sure, but some drugs might get in the way.

Prescription medications are among the most recommended nonsurgical treatments for back and neck pain. While these drugs may help relieve what ails your spine, your sleep may suffer as a result. That’s a big deal, as sleep deprivation harms your overall health.

Unfortunately, back and neck pain medications can have side effects — and interfering with your sleep and ability to function normally during the day are common ones. Your medications may prevent you from falling asleep or getting enough sleep. Or, you might doze off easily, but your sleep quality suffers. Plus, sleep-related side effects don’t just affect you during the nighttime hours, as you might experience jitters or drowsiness during the day.

Sleep Science 101: rethinking sedatives

Before delving into common back and neck pain medications that may impact your sleep, it’s important to understand one of the biggest misconceptions about sleep medications: the effect of sedation.

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Many people take sedatives because they want to fall asleep faster. However, this doesn’t tell the full picture, according to Steven A. King, MD, MS, who practices pain medicine in New York and is a clinical professor of Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.

“When considering what’s good for sleep, it is important to remember that sleep is not a uniform activity throughout the course of the night, but instead, a series of cycles involving different levels of wakefulness,” wrote Dr. King in a blog for Psychiatric Times. “Just because a medication may put one to sleep doesn’t mean it will provide restful sleep if it disrupts the normal sleep cycles.”

During a good night’s sleep, your brain will repeatedly cycle through five phases: stages 1, 2, 3, 4, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. You should spend about 25 percent of your total sleep in the REM cycle, and this is the cycle where dreaming occurs. Having uninterrupted REM sleep is important, as researchers believe it contributes to storing memories, learning, and regulating your mood.

If you’ve been prescribed a medicine with sedative effects, such as an opioid, monitor your sleep quality. It’s not just about how fast you fall asleep but also how refreshed you feel the next day. If you’re waking up groggy and dazed, talk to your doctor about possible alterations to your medication regimen.

Back and neck pain medications that may disrupt sleep

Below are drugs that treat spinal conditions and may also have sleep-related side effects.

Note: The table below contains common back and neck pain medications that may interfere with your sleep and daytime functioning; it is not an all-inclusive list. Always discuss the possible side effects of your specific medications with your doctor.

Sleep Table

Talk to your Doctor about drug alternatives for better sleep

Keeping your spine healthy is important, but the quality of your sleep shouldn’t suffer as a result. If you’ve noticed a reduction in quantity or quality of sleep since beginning your back or neck pain medicine, tell your doctor. He or she may prescribe an alternative medication or therapy to restore healthy sleep while addressing your spinal issue.

By Christopher Ornelas, MD

Christopher C. Ornelas, MD, an assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Dr. Ornelas, a physiatrist at the USC Spine Center, specializes in the treatment of non-operative spinal disorders.

If you are experiencing back pain or are looking for a second opinion, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit