pain relief

Better Sleep Quality May Provide Pain Relief

Published On February 17, 2020 | By Joshua Sigafus | Sleep

Is it possible that being sleep deprived may hurt our body’s natural ability to provide pain relief?

Sleep deprivation does a lot of things. But according to a study that only recently came out of the University of California, it may also be contributing to the overall level of pain we feel on a day-to-day basis. 

The study was conducted by a PhD student named Adam Krause, and was subsequently published in The Journal of Neuroscience

The relationship between sleep and pain has been looked into before. But these recent results seem to have yielded some answers that have scientists scratching their heads.

What Is The Relationship Between Sleep And Pain?

The reason for why sleep deprivation seems to be amplifying pain has not been completely worked out by researchers. But here is what is known. 

First of all, people with chronic pain (a bad back, arthritis, etc.) tend to lose sleep because of that pain. But there is a cycle effect here that also seems to be at work. 

When an individual cannot sleep because of their chronic pain, that pain tends to get even worse over time. 

But if you think that this is just pseudoscience, you will be unpleasantly surprised to learn that it isn’t.

During the research, scientists conducted a sleep-lab experiment… and learned that a single night of sleep deprivation had the capability to reduce a person’s pain threshold by more than 15 percent. 

And in a separate experiment, scientists were able to predict how much pain a person was going to feel the next day based on how much quality sleep they had gotten the night before. 

This experiment included 25 healthy young adults, and took two nights to complete. One night, they were allowed to sleep. But the second night, they were forced to stay awake for 24 hours. 

At the end of each night, the participants’ threshold for pain was tested using heat on the skin. 

And the results? Well, let’s just say that it hurt a LOT worse after the subjects were not allowed to sleep! 

One thing that the study showed researchers was that sleep may be a useful part of pain relief therapy. 

But why?

What Exactly Does Sleep Have To Do With Pain Relief?

One thing that scientists have noticed is that the brain processes pain in a few different ways. And in some cases, the level of sleep deprivation a person has experienced can influence this. 

For example… there is a part of the brain called the insula cortex, which basically evaluates incoming pain signals. 

This part of the brain has the ability to trigger the release of natural painkillers in the body to help deal with pain if it occurs. 

But scientists learned two interesting things during this study. 

For one, they learned that sleep deprivation caused ‘increased reactivity’ in the somatosensory cortex. But they also learned that it ‘decreased reactivity’ in the insula and striatum. 

What does this mean?

Basically, people who are sleep deprived get amplified pain signals… but they do not get the kind of ‘screening’ process that the brain usually performs to check for those pain signals. 

It is kind of like a flood of enemies coming in to attack a fortress guarded by soldiers who are still sleeping! 

When the brain hasn’t had enough sleep, it lets in more pain signals… but doesn’t block as much of the pain as usual with the body’s natural painkillers. 

And so, we find that sleeping better and more often may play a big role in providing more natural pain relief. 

If you tend to experience any sort of chronic pain, and are tired of hurting so bad on a day-to-day basis… you may be able to look to your comfortable bed and pillows for at least a little bit of the pain relief that you’re seeking.

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