A new study reports that disturbances in sleep can impair the body’s natural pain control mechanisms and can lead to spontaneous painful symptoms in women. The discovery adds to the growing body of literature on the mental and physical importance of good sleep.

Prior studies associate lack of sleep with serious health problems such as an increased risk of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In this study, disturbance in sleep was found to impair endogenous pain-inhibitory function and increase spontaneous pain in women. This finding suggests a possible pathophysiologic role of sleep disturbance in chronic pain.

The study is published in the April 1st issue of the journal SLEEP.

The study, conducted by Michael T. Smith, PhD, and colleagues at John’s Hopkins University, focused on 32 healthy females, who were studied polysomnographically for seven nights.

“This study finds that fragmented sleep profiles, akin to individuals suffering from middle of the night insomnia, health care workers on call, and parents caring for infants, alter natural systems that regulate and control pain, and can lead to spontaneous painful symptoms,” said Smith.

“Our research shows that disrupted sleep, marked by multiple prolonged awakenings, impairs natural pain control mechanisms that are thought to play a key role in the development, maintenance, and exacerbation of chronic pain.”

Experts recommend that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night to maintain good health and optimum performance.

Those who think they might have a sleep disorder are urged to discuss their problem with their primary care physician, who will issue a referral to a sleep specialist.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine