Study Connects Sleep Deficiencies in Young Adults to New or Worsening Chronic Pain

Findings from new research conducted by a team from University of Groningen, the Netherlands suggests that problems with sleep may be a predictor of chronic pain and increased pain severity in some “emerging adults”. If verified, the connection may point to early identification and treatment of sleep issues as a component of pain therapy, according to the study authors. They write "Emerging adulthood…is characterized by psychosocial and behavioral changes, such as altered sleep patterns."  They further note that chronic pain is common in this age group, especially among women. Sleep problems might be an important risk factor for increased pain, acting through altered pain thresholds, emotional disturbances, or behavioral changes. The findings are published in the journal PAIN®.

The study focused on 1750 young Dutch men and women who were followed for 3 years. The long-term associations between sleep problems and three pain types were compared between the sexes, and the mediating effects of anxiety and depression, fatigue, and physical activity were explored.  Subjects with sleep problems were found to be more likely to have chronic pain, and more severe musculoskeletal, abdominal and headache pain. Approximately one-half of those who had sleep issues at the outset of the study continued to have them throughout the 3 years duration, and those subjects were more likely to have new or persistent chronic pain. The relationship between sleep problems and pain was stronger in women than men—a difference that may start around older adolescence/emerging adulthood. A news story about the study findings, with link to the journal article, may be accessed here.

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