How can lack of sleep increase pain?

The relationship between sleep and pain is one we don't yet fully understand. What we do know -- and what anyone who suffers from chronic pain can attest to -- is that each can have a significant effect on the other. The presence of pain can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep, and being sleep deprived can make a person feel more sensitive to aches and pains. Studies that have examined the relationship between sleep and pain found these links to be true -- and also found that it doesn't take a lot of lost or disrupted sleep to have an effect on how we experience pain:
  • One study showed 12 women who were deprived of sleep for only 3 consecutive nights experienced increased sensitivity to pain. Pain sensitivity began to increase after a single night of disrupted sleep and grew worse each night.
  • Another study tested healthy men for pain sensitivity after a short period of total sleep deprivation. Researchers found that total sleep deprivation dramatically decreased the men's threshold for pain. A recovery sleep period after sleep deprivation restored the men's pain threshold.
  • Recent research into fibromyalgia showed that women who were sleep deprived had as much as 5 times higher a risk of developing the chronic pain syndrome, over a 10-year period, as women who were not sleep deprived.
  • A sleep-pain study performed on rats showed that when deprived of REM sleep, the rats experienced a significant increase in sensitivity to several types of pain stimuli.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.