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Sleep and pain sensitivity in adults

Sivertsen, Børge; Lallukka, Tea; Petrie, Keith J.; Steingrímsdóttir, Ólöf Anna; Stubhaug, Audun; Nielsen, Christopher Sivert

doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000131
Research Paper
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Sleep problems and pain are major public health concerns, but the nature of the association between the 2 conditions is inadequately studied. The aim of this study was to determine whether a range of sleep measures is associated with experimental increased pain sensitivity. A cross-sectional large population-based study from 2007 to 2008, the Tromsø 6 study, provided data from 10,412 participants (age: mean [SD], 58 [13] years; 54% women). Self-reported sleep measures provided information on sleep duration, sleep onset latency (SOL), and sleep efficiency, as well as frequency and severity of insomnia. The main outcome measure was pain sensitivity tests, including assessment of cold-pressor pain tolerance. We found that all sleep parameters, except sleep duration, were significantly associated with reduced pain tolerance. Both the frequency and severity of insomnia, in addition to SOL and sleep efficiency, were associated with pain sensitivity in a dose–response manner. Adjusting for demographics and psychological distress reduced the strengths of the hazard ratios, but most associations remained significant in the fully adjusted models. There was also a synergistic interaction effect on pain tolerance when combining insomnia and chronic pain. We conclude that sleep problems significantly increase the risk for reduced pain tolerance. Because comorbid sleep problems and pain have been linked to elevated disability, the need to improve sleep among patients with chronic pain, and vice versa, should be an important agenda for future research.

Impaired sleep significantly increases the risk for reduced pain tolerance.

aDivision of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Bergen and Oslo, Norway

bRegional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare, Uni Research Health, Bergen, Norway

cDepartment of Psychiatry, Helse Fonna HF, Haugesund, Norway

dFinnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland

eDepartment of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

fDepartment of Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

gDepartment of Health Statistics, Division of Epidemiology, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway

hDepartment of Pain Management and Research, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway

iInstitute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Corresponding author. Address: Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Kalfarveien 31, 5018 Bergen, Norway. Tel.: +47 53204101. E-mail address: borge.sivertsen@fhi.no (B. Sivertsen).

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

Received December 04, 2014

Received in revised form January 28, 2015

Accepted February 03, 2015

© 2015 International Association for the Study of Pain
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