Objective and subjective assessment of sleep in chronic low back pain patients compared with healthy age and gender matched controls: a pilot study

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009 Oct 2:10:122. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-122.


Background: While approximately 70% of chronic low back pain (CLBP) sufferers complain of sleep disturbance, current literature is based on self report measures which can be prone to bias and no objective data of sleep quality, based exclusively on CLBP are available. In accordance with the recommendations of The American Sleep Academy, when measuring sleep, both subjective and objective assessments should be considered as the two are only modestly correlated, suggesting that each modality assesses different aspects of an individual's sleep experience. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to expand previous research into sleep disturbance in CLBP by comparing objective and subjective sleep quality in participants with CLBP and healthy age and gender matched controls, to identify correlates of poor sleep and to test logistics and gather information prior to a larger study.

Methods: 15 CLBP participants (mean age = 43.8 years (SD = 11.5), 53% female) and 15 healthy controls (mean age = 41.5 years (SD = 10.6), 53% female) consented. All participants completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, Insomnia Severity Index, Pittsburgh Sleep Diary and the SF36v2. CLBP participants also completed the Oswestry Disability Index. Sleep patterns were assessed over three consecutive nights using actigraphy. Total sleep time (TST), sleep efficiency (SE), sleep latency onset (SL) and number of awakenings after sleep onset (WASO) were derived. Statistical analysis was conducted using unrelated t-tests and Pearson's product moment correlation co-efficients.

Results: CLBP participants demonstrated significantly poorer overall sleep both objectively and subjectively. They demonstrated lower actigraphic SE (p = .002) and increased WASO (p = .027) but no significant differences were found in TST (p = .43) or SL (p = .97). Subjectively, they reported increased insomnia (p =< .001), lower SE (p =< .001) and increased SL (p =< .001) but no difference between TST (p = .827) and WASO (p = .055). Statistically significant associations were found between low back pain (p = .021, r = -.589), physical health (p = .003, r = -.713), disability levels (p = .025, r = .576), and subjective sleep quality in the CLBP participants but not with actigraphy.

Conclusion: CLBP participants demonstrated poorer overall sleep, increased insomnia symptoms and less efficient sleep. Further investigation using a larger sample size and a longer period of sleep monitoring is ongoing.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications*
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Polysomnography / methods
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / diagnosis
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / etiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology
  • Young Adult