Sleep problems are a predictor of chronic pain and worsening pain severity over time in young adults, according to a study in PAIN.
Interestingly, researchers found that the presence of pain generally doesn’t predict worsening sleep during the transition between adolescence and young adulthood. They believe that early identification and treatment of sleep problems might help reduce later problems with pain.
Drs. Bonvanie and colleagues of University of Groningen, the Netherlands analyzed “bidirectional” relationships between sleep problems and pain in their study of young adults, ages 19 – 22. The study focused on overall chronic pain as well as specific types of pain, including musculoskeletal, headache, and abdominal pain. It included approximately 1,750 young Dutch men and women who were followed for three years.
About half of participants who had sleep problems at the initial evaluation still had them three years later. At baseline, subjects with sleep problems were more likely to have chronic pain and had more severe musculoskeletal, headache, and abdominal pain.
After three years, those with sleep problems were more likely to have new or persistent chronic pain. Overall, 38 % of participants with severe sleep problems at initial evaluation had chronic pain at follow-up, compared with 14 % of those without initial sleep problems. The relationship between sleep problems and pain was stronger in women than it was in men.
“Emerging adulthood is characterized by psychosocial and behavioral changes, such as altered sleep patterns,” Drs. Bonvanie and coauthors wrote. “Chronic pain is also common in this age group, especially among women. Sleep problems might be an important risk factor for increased pain, acting through altered pain thresholds, emotional disturbances, or behavioral changes.”
“Our findings indicate the sleep problems are not only a precursor for pain, but actually predict the persistence of chronic pain and an increase in pain levels,” the researchers said.
They concluded, “Our findings suggest that sleep problems may be an additional target for treatment and prevention strategies in female emerging adults with chronic pain and musculoskeletal pain.”