Posted on May 6, 2015
A new study published in the journal PAIN® affirms that people with insomnia and other sleep issues exhibit increased sensitivity to pain. The effect on pain tolerance appears strongest in people who suffer from both insomnia and chronic pain, who may benefit from treatments targeting both conditions. The research, undertaken by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, included over 10,400 adult subjects who underwent a standard test of pain sensitivity—the cold pressor test—in which subjects are asked to keep their hand submerged in a cold water bath. Overall, 32 percent of participants were able to keep their hand in the cold water throughout the 106-second test. Participants with insomnia were more likely to take their hand out early: 42 percent did so, compared with 31 percent of those without insomnia.
This research is the first to link insomnia and impaired sleep to reduced pain tolerance in a large, general population sample. The results suggest that psychological factors may contribute to the relationship between sleep problems and pain, but they do not fully explain it. More study is needed to explore the role of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that may affect both pain and sleep. Meanwhile, the study clearly shows the need for efforts to improve sleep among patients with chronic pain and vice versa.
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A news story about the study, with link to the journal abstract, may be read here.