Context: Sleep disturbances, pain, and inflammation co-occur in various medical conditions, but their interrelationships are poorly understood.
Objective: We investigated the effects of reduced sleep duration (by approximately 50%) to 4 h/night across 10 days, on peripherally circulating inflammatory mediators. In addition, we tested the prediction that degree of inflammation is quantitatively related to the extent to which pain is increased in response to prolonged sleep restriction.
Design: Randomized, 16 day controlled in-laboratory study conducted in GCRC.
Methods: Eighteen volunteers were randomly assigned to either 12 days of sleeping 8 h/night or 4 h/night. Participants rated mood and pain symptoms throughout experimental days. Urine was collected and blood was drawn frequently on the baseline day and after the 10th experimental day for 25 hours.
Outcome measures: Levels of plasma interleukin (IL)-6, serum C-reactive protein (CRP), plasma soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor p55 (sTNF-R p55), urinary levels of prostaglandin (PG) metabolites D2 and E2, subjective assessment of pain and tiredness-fatigue.
Results: IL-6 levels were elevated in the 4-h sleep condition over the 8-h sleep condition (P <0.05). CRP levels showed the same trend as IL-6, but did not differ significantly between groups (P = 0.11). Levels of sTNF-R p55 were unchanged in both groups. PG E2 and 11beta-F2alpha metabolite increased in 4-h sleepers, but did not differ significantly from the 8-h sleepers. Elevated IL-6 levels were strongly associated with increased pain ratings in response to sleep restriction (r = 0.67, P <0.01), and this association could not be explained by elevations in tiredness-fatigue.
Conclusion: Insufficient sleep quantity may facilitate and/or exacerbate pain through elevations of IL-6. In disorders where sleep disturbances are common, insufficient sleep quantity itself may establish and maintain its co-occurrence with pain and increased inflammation.