Findings of a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed that sleep loss does not only intensify the brain's pain-sensing regions but blocks pain-relieving centers, too.
This is the first time that scientists have pinpointed neural anomalies in a sleep-deprived brain that can prolong and intensify agony. The findings also explain that if sleep deficiency is indeed intensifying the body's sensitivity to pain, then sound sleep should be given greater importance in patient care, especially in noisy hospital wards.
Sleep-Pain Connection In Real Life Scenarios
The researchers surveyed more than 200 adults across the nation via Amazon's Mechanical Turk online marketplace. The participants were made to report their hours of sleep and their levels of pain on a daily basis over a period of time. According to the survey results, even a slight deviation in the sleep-wake pattern resulted in the body's response to pain.
"The results clearly show that even very subtle changes in nightly sleep - reductions that many of us think little of in terms of consequences - have a clear impact on your next-day pain burden," explained study author Adam Krause, a Ph.D. student at the Center for Human Sleep Science, University of California, Berkeley.
Sleep Deprivation And Pain Sensitivity
As the researchers proved their hypothesis that lack of sleep can increase body's vulnerability to pain, which is evident in the brain's heightened activity in the somatosensory cortex, they also found that sleep deprivation also suppresses the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain that releases pain-relieving dopamine.
"Sleep loss not only amplifies the pain-sensing regions in the brain but blocks the natural analgesia centers too," said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology.
Krause and Walker discovered that neural procedures that recognize pain signals, evaluate them and trigger natural pain relief is obstructed when they operate on inadequate sleep.
The Key Takeaway
The optimistic learning from the study is that sleep is a natural pain reliever that can help by not only managing the pain but also lowering it, explained Walker.
However, despite its importance in treating discomfort, the place where people experience most pain is also the worst sleeping environment: a hospital ward.
Walker intends to work closely with hospitals to develop a more sleep-friendly environment to improve inpatient care and help clear the hospital beds faster. The findings also conclude that uninterrupted patient sleep should be an integral part of healthcare management.