Research Links Disturbed Sleep and Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • The results of this new study on how sleep disturbances relate to pain will hardly be a surprise to those of us who have fibromyalgia or a number of other chronic pain disorders.  The study, published in the April 1st issue of the journal SLEEP, suggests it is frequent disruptions in sleep rather than simply not enough sleep that plays a significant role in chronic pain conditions.  

    How the Study Was Conducted

    For seven nights, researchers controlled the sleep patterns of 32 healthy women.  The women slept undisturbed for the first two nights.  Then they were divided into three groups.  The first group was used as a control.  They were allowed to continue sleeping undisturbed during the remainder of the study.  For nights three through five, the second group was awakened once each hour for eight hours, while the third group was deprived of a full night’s sleep by having their bedtime delayed.  On the final two nights, the second and third groups were both deprived of sleep for 36 hours followed by an 11-hour recovery sleep.  
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    Twice a day the subjects completed pain threshold and pain inhibition assessments.  The second group, who had been repeatedly awakened throughout the night, showed an increase in spontaneous pain, however, there were no changes in spontaneous pain or pain inhibition in either of the other groups.  

    Lead researcher Michael T. Smith, PhD, from John’s Hopkins University, said in a news release, “Our research shows that disrupted sleep, marked by multiple prolonged awakenings, impairs natural pain control mechanisms that are thought to play a key role in the development, maintenance, and exacerbation of chronic pain.”

    So, How Do We Get This Undisturbed Sleep?

    That’s a question we’ve all wrestled with.  I suspect the answer to getting sleep is like the answer to every other treatment option for fibromyalgia –– it’s different for everyone.  You have to find what works for you.  Not a very satisfying answer, I know.  

    I will, however, be happy to share what has worked for me.  (I must warn you, though, this is not a plan that would be recommended by most sleep specialists.)  For 15 years I tried all the standard advice with no luck.  Medication helped me sleep longer hours, but I still didn’t seem to be getting the quality of sleep I needed.  Finally I decided to try a two-pronged approach.  First, I began acupuncture treatments.  Second, I started paying attention to my body.  Instead of sleeping when I was “supposed” to, I started sleeping when my body felt like it needed sleep.  As a result, I keep very strange hours that vary from week to week.  But I’m sleeping better than I have in nearly 20 years –– and without medication!  

    To learn more about sleep and ideas to help you find a plan that works for you, check these out:

Published On: April 06, 2007