Sleep and Pain: A Systematic Review of Studies of Mediation

Daniel Whibley* (Corresponding Author), Nourah Al Kandari, K.aja Kristensen, M. Barnish, M. Rzewuska, Katie L Druce, Nicole K. Y. Tang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives: A relationship between sleep and pain is well established. A better understanding of the mechanisms that link sleep and pain intensity is urgently needed to optimise pain management interventions. The objective of this systematic review was to identify, synthesise and critically appraise studies that have investigated putative mediators on the path between sleep and pain intensity.

Methods: A systematic search of five electronic bibliographic databases (EMBASE, MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials) was conducted. Eligible studies had to apply a formal test of mediation to variables on the path between a sleep variable and pain intensity or vice versa. All searches, data extraction and quality assessment were conducted by at least two independent reviewers.

Results: The search yielded 2,839 unique articles, nine of which were eligible. Of 13 mediation analyses, 11 investigated pathways from a sleep variable to pain intensity. Putative mediators included affect/mood, depression and/or anxiety, attention to pain, pain helplessness, stress, fatigue, and physical activity. Two analyses investigated pathways from pain intensity to a sleep variable, examining the potentially mediating role of depressive symptoms and mood. While evidence supported a mediating role for psychological and physiological aspects of emotional experiences and attentional processes, methodological limitations were common, including use of cross-sectional data and minimal adjustment for potential confounders.

Discussion: A growing body of research is applying mediation analysis to elucidate mechanistic pathways between sleep and pain intensity. Currently sparse evidence would be illuminated by more intensively collected longitudinal data and improvements in analysis.

Systematic review registration: PROSPERO registration number CRD42016049240
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)544-558
Number of pages15
JournalThe Clinical Journal of Pain
Issue number6
Early online date28 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

DW is funded by a Versus Arthritis Foundation Fellowship [grant number 21742].


  • mediation analysis
  • pain
  • sleep problems
  • systematic review
  • MOOD
  • BACK


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