Sleep Disruptions Promote Pain in Women
By Lucy Williams, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent
ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Insomnia and chronic pain seem to go hand-in-hand. Pain can disrupt sleep, but now researchers are asking, "Which comes first -- sleep disturbance or pain?"
The answer may be both. Pain disrupts sleep, but recent research reveals sleep disruption might contribute directly to hyperalgesia, or extreme sensitivity to pain.
"Sleep fragmentation may actually causally contribute to chronic pain," lead author Michael Smith, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Ivanhoe. "It's not really a secondary symptom. It's an active symptom that requires active management to regulate the brain's way of managing and moderating pain."
Johns Hopkins University researchers studied the effects of sleep disturbances in women for seven nights. Participants were assigned to a control group, a forced awakening group or a restricted sleep opportunity group. Women in the control group slept undisturbed. Women in the forced awakening group were awakened eight times each night. Women in the restricted sleep opportunity group were deprived of sleep for 36 hours and then allowed 11 hours of recovery sleep.
Researchers assessed participant pain thresholds and pain inhibition. Women in the forced awakening group demonstrated an increase in spontaneous pain. The control group and restricted sleep opportunity group demonstrated no increase in pain response.
Researchers are not certain why sleep disturbances enhance chronic pain. Dr. Smith suggests sleep disturbances could impair the body's systems for regulating pain.
"That impairment system is thought to be opioid-driven," he said. "The hypothesis I'm pursuing is that sleep fragmentation, not just sleep loss, somehow impairs the endogenous opioid system, which is responsible for regulating pain."
Not only does an impaired opioid system inhibit pain regulation, it may also make drugs less effective.
"This type of sleep fragmentation might impair the opioid system, and it might make morphine and opioid-related drugs less effective," Dr. Smith said. "If this is the case, patients who get fragmentation would require more opioids to get the same effect. That's costly and there's more room for side effects."