Objective: Sleep disturbances have been thought to augment pain. Sleep deprivation has been proven to produce hyperalgesic effects. It is still unclear whether these changes are truly specific to pain and not related to general changes in somatosensory functions. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effect of total sleep deprivation on thermal pain thresholds (heat, cold) and pain complaints. Thermal detection thresholds (warmth, cold) were included as covariates to determine the contribution of somatosensory functions to changes in pain processing.
Methods: Twenty healthy volunteers were randomly assigned either to two nights of total sleep deprivation or to two nights of undisturbed night sleep. Sleep deprivation nights were separated by two days with normal night sleep. Heat and cold pain thresholds as well as warmth and cold detection thresholds were measured by use of a peltier thermode in the evening before and the morning after each deprivation or control night. Pain complaints were examined by use of a questionnaire in parallel.
Results: During treatment nights, sleep deprivation produced a significant overnight decrease in heat pain thresholds. Cold pain thresholds tended to decrease also during sleep deprivation, whereas the warmth and cold detection thresholds remained unaffected. Accordingly, no substantial contributions of the changes in thermal detection thresholds to the changes in thermal pain thresholds were determined by regression analyses. Pain complaints were not induced by sleep deprivation.
Conclusions: The present findings suggest that sleep deprivation produces hyperalgesic changes that cannot be explained by nonspecific alterations in somatosensory functions.