Rather than taking painkillers, patients with chronic pain might benefit from better sleeping habits coupled with daytime alertness-promoting agents such as coffee, suggests a research.
The study, conducted on mice, revealed that five consecutive days of moderate sleep deprivation can significantly exacerbate pain sensitivity over time in otherwise healthy mice.
Common analgesics like ibuprofen did not block sleep loss-induced pain hypersensitivity. Even morphine lost most of its efficacy in sleep-deprived mice.
In contrast, both caffeine and modafinil – drugs used to promote wakefulness – successfully blocked the pain hypersensitivity caused by both acute and chronic sleep loss.
"This represents a new kind of analgesic that hadn't been considered before, one that depends on the biological state of the animal. Such drugs could help disrupt the chronic pain cycle, in which pain disrupts sleep, which then promotes pain, which further disrupts sleep," said Clifford Woolf from Boston Children's Hospital in the US.
For the study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, the researchers measured the effects of acute or chronic sleep loss on sleepiness and sensitivity to both painful and non-painful stimuli.
They then tested standard pain medications, like ibuprofen and morphine, as well as wakefulness-promoting agents like caffeine and modafinil.
They also developed a protocol to chronically sleep-deprive mice in a non-stressful manner, by providing them with toys and activities at the time they were supposed to go to sleep, thereby extending the wake period.
"This is similar to what most of us do when we stay awake a little bit too much watching late night TV each weekday," says Alexandre, who works in the lab of Thomas Scammell, MD, at BIDMC.