Doctors who treat pain have known for a while that their patients seem to have higher rates of sleep disorders from insomnia to sleep apnea.
“The question,” said pain specialist Richard Radnovich “is there a cause and effect relationship.”
Radnovich made his comments in the wake of a report out of Norway that says people who have problem sleeping may also be more sensitive to pain, thus potentially worsening the effects of chronic pain conditions.
Researchers measured pain sensitivity in more than 10,000 adults, who were participants in the Tromso Study, an ongoing public health study in Norway that began in 1974.
The participants were asked to place their hands in cold water for a set period of time.
People who remove their hands early show a decreased tolerance to pain.
The results showed that 42 percent of patients who had insomnia took their hands out of the water before the 106 seconds were up, while only 31 percent of all participants lasted the stipulated period.
This increased sensitivity to pain was greater in those with severe insomnia.
People who were experiencing chronic pain and who also had insomnia showed increased sensitivity to pain.
Pain sensitivity was also linked to the amount of time it took to get to sleep.
Radnovich calls the study “interesting” but added “it does not address which is the chicken and which is the egg.”
The study only asked people to report on the impressions of their sleep patterns. And researchers found that people who reported more trouble falling asleep did not tolerate painful stimulus as well as those who did not report trouble falling asleep.
“Of course it could be that those patients really did have more trouble with sleep,” said Radnovich.” But it is also possible that researchers were really measuring people’s awareness of sleep – maybe their actual sleep patterns are no different at all; maybe the people that are intolerant to painful sensations are also more intolerant to subtle changes in sleep patterns.”
A follow up study to objectively measure sleep would be helpful to further understand this phenomenon, he concluded.
Radnovich runs a pain clinic in Boise, Idaho which is one of the leading clinical research sites in the nation for treatments for musculoskeletal disorders and pain. I
The Mayo Clinic describes insomnia and says there are two kinds. Primary insomnia is where inability to sleep is the main problem and secondary insomnia where inability to sleep may be caused by a disease or medication, so it’s more likely that chronic pain inducted insomnia (or vice versa) is secondary insomnia. Insomniacs have difficulty falling asleep, wake up during the night or wake up too early.
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