It makes sense that pain can interfere with a good night's sleep. In spite of this, growing evidence suggests that poor sleep can itself lead to an increase in pain.
It's like a vicious cycle that researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) are trying to understand.
"Understanding this relationship could open up new avenues in pain management through the treatment of sleep disorders," said Megan Ruiter, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in UAB's Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology.
Ruiter is studying the sleep and pain relationship among patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disease affecting mainly the hands, knees, hips and spine. Pain from this disease is common, though the experience of the pain can widely vary among patients, regardless of how much the disease has progressed.
Ruiter is recruiting patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who are already participating in an ongoing pain study at UAB, the Understanding Pain and Limitations of Osteoarthritic Disease (UPLOAD) study, to also participate in a sleep study. Participants from the UPLOAD study who qualify for the sleep study will undergo sleep testing on two nights in the UAB Sleep Wake Disorders Center. The first night will be used to identify those without pre-existing sleep disorders, who will then undergo a second night of testing.
"There is reason to believe that poor sleep can cause a cascade of physiological problems that can lead to pain issues," said Laurence Bradley, Ph.D., professor in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology and lead investigator of the UPLOAD study.
"Sleep is a modifiable phenomenon," Ruiter said. "Treating sleep to modify pain may allow more options than simply treating pain at the source, which is often extremely difficult."
Bradley said there may be three factors that primarily influence pain in these patients. There are biological factors such as blood pressure or hormone levels, psycho-social factors like perceptions and expectations, as well as genetic factors.