According to recent estimates, approximately 35% of adults in the United States suffer from sleep deprivation. For some individuals this difficulty is caused by physical or emotional problems.
It is well-known that sleep deprivation causes numerous health problems, ranging from cognitive impairment, an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and even an increased risk for cancer. The reason for this increased risk is simple: sleep is the time when the body repairs damaged cells and processes the brain's activities. Consequently, chronic sleep deprivation results in both physical and emotional damage.
However, a new study led by Dr. Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, added another item to the list of negative consequences caused by insufficient sleep: increased sensitivity to pain. Dr. Walker and his colleagues published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 20% of adults in the United States are living with chronic pain. Dr. Walker and his research team began their study by testing the pain thresholds of a group of individuals without sleep difficulties. The participants' brains were scanned using a functional MRI machine while increasing levels of heat were applied to their legs in order to determine each participant’s pain threshold.
After pain thresholds were determined, the same study was repeated after the participants were kept awake for an entire night. The research revealed that the participants sensitivity to heat, as well as their pain thresholds, occurred at lower temperatures, demonstrating. that sensitivity to pain increases when there is inadequate sleep.
More specifically, the research team determined via functional MRI scanning that the brain's somatosensory cortex (a region of the brain associated with pain), was hyperactive when the participants had an inadequate night's sleep. This confirmed the hypothesis that sleep deprivation interferes with the neural circuitry involved in pain processing.
The team also showed that the specific part of the brain responsible for releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, was less active after an inadequate night's sleep. Since dopamine increases pleasure and relieves pain, Dr. Walker explained that, "Sleep loss not only amplifies the pain-sensing regions in the brain but blocks the natural analgesia centers, too."
The scientists replicated their findings in a second study involving approximately 250 adults with a wide variety of sleep patterns. Initially, each participant’s sleep pattern and pain sensitivity level was determined. The participants were monitored for several days in order to collect a sufficient amount of data to make statistically valid inferences. An analysis of the data collected showed that even small changes in the participants sleep patterns affected their sensitivity to pain.
Dr. Walker pointed out, "The optimistic take away here is that sleep is a natural analgesic that can help manage and lower pain. [...] Yet ironically, one environment where people are in the most pain is the worst place for sleep — the noisy hospital ward. Our findings suggest that patient care would be markedly improved, and hospital beds cleared sooner, if uninterrupted sleep were embraced as an integral component of healthcare management."
The take away message for us is clear: ensuring a good nights sleep is one of the simplest steps we can take to improve our overall health and to experience less pain in our day-to-day lives. In order to achieve this goal, it is important to turn off all electronic devices 1 to 2 hours before going to bed, and make sure to allow ourselves a sufficient amount of time to sleep, approximately eight hours. Pleasant dreams!
Regency’s Heart & Lung Center has an on-site sleep study program. In addition to unlocking Medicare benefits for Bipap utilization when discharged home, it allows us to ensure our residents can optimize their crucial sleeping hours to achieve optimal health.
It’s one of the ways that Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers, offers the very best of care in a patient-centered environment. It also includes listening to our residents and patients and respecting their capabilities, while helping them to achieve maximum functionality and independence. And always maintaining the highest professional and quality standards in our staff and our facilities. Our 25 years of excellent care have led to us being awarded a Best Nursing Homes award by US News & World Today, a 5-Star rating by USA Today, and an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau, among many other awards.
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