No Sleep, No Gain How Sleep Loss Turns Us into Extra-Sensitive Pain Machines!

The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and Increased Sensitivity to Pain

A glimpse into an apartment through a window and curtains at night

Sleeping troubles may further exacerbate pain. Dominic Dähncke/Stocksy

  • About two-thirds of all adults occasionally experience insomnia symptoms.
  • Those who do not get enough sleep also frequently experience body pain, such as headaches, migraines, lower back pain, and chronic pain.
  • Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital say a specific neurotransmitter decreases during insufficient sleep, leaving the body more sensitized to pain.

Lack of sleep is a global problem. It’s like trying to survive in a world without coffee – a nightmare! Researchers estimate that two-thirds of all adults occasionally experience insomnia symptoms, and between 50 to 70 million Americans have a recurring sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or insomnia.

Insufficient sleep has been linked to seven of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., such as cardiovascular disease, accidents, and diabetes. It’s like playing a game of Russian roulette with your health.

Additionally, those who do not get enough sleep frequently experience headaches and/or migraines, body aches, lower back pain, and even chronic pain that does not go away. It’s like being trapped in a never-ending episode of “The Walking Pain.”

Why would insufficient sleep cause body pain? Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital believe it has to do with a specific neurotransmitter that decreases during insufficient sleep. It’s like the body’s “pain-resistance potion” running low.

This study, recently published in the journal Nature Communications, sheds light on the mechanisms behind the painful consequences of sleep loss. Dr. Shiqian Shen, an associate professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and clinical director of Mass General Research Institute’s Tele Pain Program, explains that insufficient sleep leads to decreased levels of a neurotransmitter called N-arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA) in an area of the brain called the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN). This results in heightened pain sensitivity, medically known as hyperalgesia. It’s like the body’s pain filters malfunctioning, amplifying every ache and twinge.

While pain is something every person experiences throughout their life, it usually goes away over time. But for some unlucky souls, their pain persists, becoming chronic. It’s like having a never-ending stain on your favorite shirt. Common types of chronic pain include arthritis, neck pain, back pain, overall muscle pain like fibromyalgia, headaches and/or migraines, pain in scar tissue, cancer-associated pain, spinal cord injuries, and diabetic neuropathy.

Past studies show that chronic pain can be both a cause and consequence of insufficient sleep. It’s a vicious cycle of pain, insomnia, more pain, and more insomnia. It’s like being caught in a never-ending merry-go-round of misery.

Dr. Shen and his colleagues believe that these findings may pave the way for better treatments for chronic pain associated with sleep loss. It provides a framework to examine the comorbid interactions between chronic pain and sleep loss. Additionally, the identification of N-arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA) opens up future opportunities to test this molecule and similar ones for their potential in alleviating pain induced by sleep loss. It’s like discovering the missing piece to a pain-free puzzle.

After reviewing this study, Dr. Monique May, a family medicine and medical advisor, points out the importance of having alternatives to habit-forming medicines such as narcotics. This study highlights the impact of sleep deprivation on pain by using a naturally occurring substance that the body produces (NADA) to decrease pain. It emphasizes the vital role sleep plays in the body’s healing and regenerative processes. It also suggests that studying NADA in populations with chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and others could lead to better treatment options. It’s like finding a hidden treasure trove of non-narcotic pain relief solutions.

So, how can we improve our sleep hygiene to avoid the detrimental effects of sleep loss? Here are some tips from Drs. May and Mikhael:

  1. Set and keep a sleep schedule.
  2. Use the bed for sleep and sex only.
  3. Keep the bedroom cool, noise-free, and comfortable.
  4. Avoid exciting or violent content before bedtime.
  5. Take a hot shower to relax.
  6. Sip on a calming drink like chamomile or warm milk.
  7. Minimize stress before bed.
  8. Take any prescribed nighttime medication regularly.
  9. Limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon.
  10. Exercise regularly.
  11. Maintain a healthy diet.
  12. Practice meditation and relaxation techniques.
  13. Seek medical help for underlying issues affecting sleep.
  14. Embrace the power of sleep and prioritize its importance.

Remember, a good night’s sleep is not a luxury but a necessity for our overall well-being. So, take care of your sleep, and it will take care of you!

What are your thoughts or experiences with sleep and pain? Have you found any unique ways to improve your sleep? Share your insights in the comments below!