Sleepless Nights – Painful Days

Alan Mozes composed an article for HealthDay Reporter explaining why sleepless nights can mean more painful days for you.  Your lack of a good nights sleep may be the reason you are aching all over the next morning.

There is new research that finds the sleep loss you have may deliver a double whammy to the brain that guarantees greater levels of body pain.  There is activity in the somatosensory cortex that has been associated with the location and intensity of pain, and enhanced following sleep loss. The information was offered by study author Adam Krause.  There are two regions called the striatum and the insula of which sleep deprivation decreased the activity associated with pain relief. The release of dopamine, which is often called the feel-good hormone, is controlled by these regions.

Krause is a Ph.D. candidate with the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley.  Young participants got the regular eight hours of sleep per night during the study. The same group underwent a night of no sleep whatsoever a week or so later.  The volunteers underwent “thermal pain sensitivity” tests after each session, followed by MRI scans to monitor brain activity while their legs were exposed to uncomfortable levels of heat.

Most participants reported feeling heat discomfort after a full night of sleep at about 111 degrees Fahrenheit.  The pain threshold dropped to 107 degrees Fahrenheit after a night of no sleep.  

Their brain scans pinpointed the neurological reason for the increase in pain sensitivity following their sleep loss.  The team then surveyed 60 adults that averaged age 38 over a 48-hour period. They had all reported experiencing pain during the survey and were all asked to keep sleep diaries, report their mood and anxiety levels and rank their pain intensity, when it was experienced.

The reductions from one night to the next in the quality of sleep and not just the quantity or total hours slept, predicted worse pain the following day.  The takeaway is that better sleep can help to manage and lower the pain as it is a natural analgesic that we can pick up in repeat prescription each night, if we choose to do so.

Hopefully this research encourages health care systems to bring sleep closer to the center of treatment.  By improving sleep conditions in the setting where patients are most often in pain, i.e. the hospital ward, maybe the dosage of narcotic drugs can be reduced and the hospital beds can be cleared sooner.  Their findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Dr Fredda Branyon