Sleep Disorders

03 December 2012

Extended sleep reduces pain sensitivity

A new study suggests that extending nightly sleep in mildly sleepy, healthy adults increases daytime alertness and reduces pain sensitivity.


A new study suggests that extending nightly sleep in mildly sleepy, healthy adults increases daytime alertness and reduces pain sensitivity.

"Our results suggest the importance of adequate sleep in various chronic pain conditions or in preparation for elective surgical procedures," said Timothy Roehrs, PhD, the study's principal investigator and lead author. "We were surprised by the magnitude of the reduction in pain sensitivity, when compared to the reduction produced by taking codeine."

The study, appearing in the December issue of the journal SLEEP, involved 18 healthy, pain-free, sleepy volunteers. They were randomly assigned to four nights of either maintaining their habitual sleep time or extending their sleep time by spending 10 hours in bed per night. Objective daytime sleepiness was measured using the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), and pain sensitivity was assessed using a radiant heat stimulus.

What the results showed

Results show that the extended sleep group slept 1.8 hours more per night than the habitual sleep group. This nightly increase in sleep time during the four experimental nights was correlated with increased daytime alertness, which was associated with less pain sensitivity.

In the extended sleep group, the length of time before participants removed their finger from a radiant heat source increased by 25%, reflecting a reduction in pain sensitivity. The authors report that the magnitude of this increase in finger withdrawal latency is greater than the effect found in a previous study of 60 mg of codeine.

According to the authors, this is the first study to show that extended sleep in mildly, chronically sleep deprived volunteers reduces their pain sensitivity. The results, combined with data from previous research, suggest that increased pain sensitivity in sleepy individuals is the result of their underlying sleepiness.

(EurekAlert, December 2012)

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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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