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Can too little sleep lead to more pain?
Pain can severely affect sleep and keep people awake for a long time. But how does pain feel when people sleep poorly? Neural disorders in the brain have now been identified during sleep deprivation. Such disorders exacerbate and prolong the pain from injuries and illnesses.
In their current study, scientists from the University of Berkeley found that poor sleep affects and even aggravates pain, or prolongs the duration. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Journal of Neuroscience".
Sleep and its effects on pain
The scientists have proven their hypothesis that sleep deprivation can increase sensitivity to pain, which was shown by an accelerated response in the so-called somatosensory cortex of the brain. What was also surprising was the impaired activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain's reward circuit. In addition to other functions, this region also increases dopamine levels in order to relieve pain. "Sleep disorders not only reinforce the pain-sensitive regions in the brain, but also block the natural analgesia centers," said Professor Matthew Walker from the University of Berkeley in a press release. If poor sleep increases sensitivity to pain, sleep needs to be considered much more when treating patients, especially in hospital wards, the expert continues.
Lack of sleep may misinterpret pain signals
Another important brain region that was negatively influenced in the brain by sleepless people was the insula, which evaluates pain signals and sets them in context to prepare the body for the reaction. The scientists explain that it is a critical neural system that evaluates and categorizes the pain signals and enables the body's natural pain reliever to relieve pain.
Changes in sleep had a big impact
To test the connection between sleep and pain in common everyday scenarios, the researchers surveyed more than 230 adults of all ages across the country. Respondents were asked to report their hours of sleep at night and their daily pain levels for a few days. The results showed that even slight shifts in sleep and wake patterns correlated with changes in sensitivity to pain.
First, the basic pain threshold of the test subjects was determined
For their study, the doctors recruited 25 healthy young adults who did not suffer from sleep or pain disorders. Since different people have different pain thresholds, the researchers first recorded the basic pain threshold of all study participants after a full night of sleep. For this purpose, the heat occurring under the test subject's left leg was gradually increased, while brain activity was recorded by a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. The participants rated the pain caused by the heat on a scale of one to ten and reported an average of thermal complaints at around 111 degrees Fahrenheit (around 44 degrees Celsius).
Too little sleep increased the sensitivity to pain
After determining the baseline sensitivity to pain of all participants after a long night's sleep, the experts were able to compare how this threshold changed by repeating the procedure after a sleepless night in the patients. They found that the vast majority of people who lacked sleep felt pain as early as 107 degrees Fahrenheit. The entire group felt uncomfortable even at lower temperatures, which shows that their own sensitivity to pain had increased after insufficient sleep, the authors say. The brain evaluates the pain differently without adequate sleep. In the meantime, imaging of the brain after a sleepless night showed significant increases in activity in the somatosensory cortex and a deactivation in the nucleus accumbens and in the insular cortex, which signaled functional disorders in the nerve mechanisms that control the physiological reactions to painful stimuli, the doctors explain.
Sleep is a natural analgesic
Sleep is, so to speak, a natural analgesic that can help relieve pain, says Professor Walker. "Our results suggest that patient care would improve significantly and that hospital beds would be cleared earlier if continuous sleep was considered an integral part of health management," added the expert. (as)