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Lack of Sleep Actually Makes You Hurt

New research shows that there is a connection between being rested and pain reduction.


Sleep loss is a highly prevalent problem that continues to worsen in frequency as individuals grow older. It is also a consequence of a faster paced, higher stress life. Aging and stress are also factors in chronic pain. Is there a connection? Researchers now believe, yes, there is.

Pain physiologist Alban Latremoliere PhD and sleep physiologist Chloe Alexandre PhD collaborated together on a study that shows that chronic sleep loss increases pain sensitivity.

The team measured the normal sleep cycles of mice in a lab to evaluate sleep and sensory ability. They deprived the mice of sleep in an interesting fashion – not through exercise on a treadmill (as past studies have done) but in a way more relative to humans: they were entertained with toys and activities at bedtime. The mice were deprived of sleep for as long as 12 hours in one session or for several hours a day over a period of almost a week.

Pain sensitivity was measured utilizing heat, cold, pressure, or capsaicin. Those that had week-long moderate sleep deprivation were found to have significantly exacerbated pain sensitivity over time.

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Trying to relieve the pain, such as with ibuprofen, did not seem to help with this type of hypersensitivity.

So what does that mean for us? Simply, improving sleep habits could potentially be a natural, non-narcotic method for treating chronic pain.

"Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities," notes Kiran Maski, MD, a specialist in sleep disorders at Boston Children's. "This study suggests a novel approach to pain management that would be relatively easy to implement in clinical care. Clinical research is needed to understand what sleep duration is required and to test the efficacy of wake-promoting medications in chronic pain patients."

Journal References:
Chloe Alexandre, Alban Latremoliere, Ashley Ferreira, Giulia Miracca, Mihoko Yamamoto, Thomas E Scammell, Clifford J Woolf. Decreased alertness due to sleep loss increases pain sensitivity in mice. Nature Medicine, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nm.4329

Richard L. Nahin. Estimates of Pain Prevalence and Severity in Adults: United States, 2012. The Journal of Pain, 2015; 16 (8): 769 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2015.05.002

Photo Credit:
By Andr.V.S. - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons