Deep Sleep Works as a Pain Reliever
Ever wonder what effect your sleepless nights have on your fibromyalgia syndrome pain? Studies conducted 30 years ago implied that the symptoms of fibromyalgia could be due to night after night of disturbed sleep, but scientists were unable to show how poor sleep contributed to the pain of fibromyalgia. Now researchers are re-examining the sleep-pain connection, and their findings may help explain why treating your sleep could be key for reducing your pain.
Bernd Kundermann, Ph.D., of Germany, was interviewed for an article showing the relationship between disturbed sleep and enhanced pain. Based on his findings and those of others, he says, “The pain-relieving action of the body’s natural opioid system relies upon undisturbed sleep (e.g., sleep continuity) … this points to a detrimental effect of sleep disruption on the ability of the opioid system to provide pain relief.” Therefore, one needs to correct the disturbances that interfere with the sleep processes.
Sometimes, it may not be easy to detect these disturbances. For example, Martha Lentz, Ph.D., R.N., of Seattle, WA, took healthy, middle-aged women and deprived them of the deepest level of sleep, commonly referred to as slow wave sleep (SWS). The subjects were allowed to sleep all night long, but every time they began to enter SWS, a loud buzzer aroused them to a lighter level of sleep (but did not wake them up). On the surface, their sleep efficiency (which is measured as the percent of time spent sleeping) remained the same, but their quality of sleep was horrible. By the third night of SWS disruption, the women developed muscular aching and their pressure pain threshold was lowered (i.e., their tenderness to applied pressure was enhanced).
What happens after depriving a person of SWS for three nights? S. Hakki Onen, M.D., Ph.D., used Lentz’s technique to prevent his healthy subjects from entering SWS, and then he allowed them to sleep through the night undisturbed (the recovery night). He found that SWS was substantially increased on the recovery night, along with the subject’s pressure pain thresholds. In fact, the increase in SWS produced greater pain relief than one would receive from a large dose of ibuprofen!
People with fibromyalgia have lower-than-normal pressure pain thresholds, but the study above indicates that increasing SWS will raise this threshold and lead to less pain. Talk to your doctor to find out which medicines might work to benefit your sleep and ease your pain!