Pain sensitivity in sleepy pain-free normals

Sleep. 2009 Aug;32(8):1011-7.


Study objective: Past studies have shown that acute experimental reduction of time in bed in otherwise healthy, non-sleepy people leads to hyperalgesia. We hypothesized that otherwise healthy, sleepy people may also exhibit hyperalgesia relative to their non-sleepy counterparts.

Design: Between-groups sleep laboratory study.

Setting: Hospital-based sleep disorders center.

Participants: Twenty-seven, healthy, normal participants (age 18-35 years) were recruited and categorized into sleepy and non-sleepy groups based on their average sleep latencies on a screening multiple sleep latency test (MSLT).

Interventions: Both groups were then allowed 8 hours time in bed, following which they underwent pain sensitivity testing (10:30 and 14:30) and sleepiness assessments by the MSLT (10:00, 12:00, 14:00, and 16:00). Pain sensitivity assessments were made by measuring finger withdrawal latencies to a radiant heat source delivering 5 different heat intensities.

Measurements and results: This study showed that after only one night of 8 hours time in bed, the sleepy participants continued to be sleepy and exhibited a more rapid finger withdrawal response (i.e., increased pain sensitivity) to radiant heat than non-sleepy participants.

Conclusion: This suggests that sleepy individuals experience hyperalgesia in response to a painful stimulus when compared with non-sleepy individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Polysomnography
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Young Adult