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Sleep Deprivation and Pain Sensitivity

We all know we need more sleep and of the more common side effects due to sleep deprivation. But, did you know that a lack of sleep can also increase pain sensitivity?

A study that was published on January 28th in the Journal of Neuroscience, explained the self-perpetuating cycles contributing to overlapping global epidemics of sleep loss, chronic pain and opioid addiction. A 2015 poll found that two in three chronic pain patients suffer from reoccurring sleep disruptions.

25 healthy young adults who did not have sleep or pain disorders were used in an experiment to test a theory that a lack of sleep can cause increased pain sensitivity. They tested each study participant's current baseline pain tolerance after a full night’s sleep. They did this by increasing heat levels to the skin of each participant’s left leg while recording their brain activity.

After understanding each participant's baseline pain sensitivity, researchers then compared how that threshold changed by repeating the procedure on the same individuals after a sleepless night. What they found was that the vast majority of subjects reported feeling pain much sooner.

It’s important to make time to sleep, but the habits before you go to bed are just as important.

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – This will help set an internal alarm clock that will increase the quality of sleep. Make sure to choose a bed time that's appropriate - you want to feel tired. Don't force yourself to go to sleep when you are not yet sleepy, this will only cause tossing and turning. Once you’ve set a habit, and if you’re getting enough sleep, you should be able to naturally wake up without an alarm.

Avoid bright screens within 1 hour of your bedtime – The blue light emitted from telephone and television screens are disruptive and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Try finding another activity before bed, such as reading or doing light stretches and make sure any lights coming from technology are turned off/covered. Alternatively, you can try a sleep mask.

Exercise during the day – Physical activity is great for a number of reasons and quality sleep is one of them - you will feel less sleepy during the day. Regular exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and increases the amount of deep, restorative stages of sleep.

Eat and drink thoughtfully – Caffeine and nicotine can disrupt sleep as they are both stimulants. Try not to drink too much coffee (- coffee can still affect sleep 10-12 hours after drinking it) and try to reduce your smoking in the evening (or even better – quit!)


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