Poor Quality of Sleep Associated with Increased Pain Severity

Genetic mutations are not solely to blame for increased neuropathic pain and the way pain is processed in the brain. Norwegian researchers identified a link between a person's quality of sleep and pain sensitivity.

Genetic mutations are not solely to blame for increased neuropathic pain and the way pain is processed in the brain. Norwegian researchers identified a link between a person’s quality of sleep and pain sensitivity.

Lead author Børge Sivertsen, PhD, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and his colleagues recognized sleeping impairments and pain as major issues worldwide. Therefore, they considered a correlation between 2 and documented the findings in PAIN.

“Patients reporting high problems with both insomnia and chronic pain were more than twice as likely to have reduced tolerance to pain,” a news release said.

The team used 10,412 participants, made up of 54% women and average age of 58, to determine the connection between sleep patterns and pain tolerance levels. Each subject took part in the cold pressor test where they were asked to keep a hand submerged in a cold water bath for up to 106 seconds in order to asses pain sensitivity. In addition to the test, participants self-reported information about their sleep including time to fall asleep, duration and any impairments. The frequency and severity of insomnia were recorded as well.

“We found that all sleep parameters, except sleep duration, were significantly associated with reduced pain tolerance,” the study informed. “Both the frequency and severity of insomnia, in addition to sleep onset latency and sleep efficiency, were associated with pain sensitivity in a dose-response manner.”

The evaluation revealed that only 32% of participants were able to keep their hand in the cold water for the full 106 seconds. Further analysis showed that 42% of those with insomnia removed their hand early while only 31% of those without the sleep disorder did the same. The severity of insomnia proved to correlate with a higher pain sensitivity as well.

“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 statement read.

The team noted that they took other factors, such as chronic pain and psychological distress, into consideration when evaluating the data.

Although this study gives noteworthy information regarding an interesting parallel, there are more answers to uncover. The authors wrote that there is not a clear reason why insomnia and pain severity are connected. However, now that the investigators pinpointed a correlation between the issues more studies need to address this area.

“As comorbid sleep problems and pain have been linked to elevated disability, the need to improve sleep among chronic pain patients, and vice versa, should be an important agenda for future research,” the team concluded.