Sleep and pain sensitivity in adults

Pain. 2015 Aug;156(8):1433-1439. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000131.


Sleep problems and pain are major public health concerns, but the nature of the association between the 2 conditions is inadequately studied. The aim of this study was to determine whether a range of sleep measures is associated with experimental increased pain sensitivity. A cross-sectional large population-based study from 2007 to 2008, the Tromsø 6 study, provided data from 10,412 participants (age: mean [SD], 58 [13] years; 54% women). Self-reported sleep measures provided information on sleep duration, sleep onset latency (SOL), and sleep efficiency, as well as frequency and severity of insomnia. The main outcome measure was pain sensitivity tests, including assessment of cold-pressor pain tolerance. We found that all sleep parameters, except sleep duration, were significantly associated with reduced pain tolerance. Both the frequency and severity of insomnia, in addition to SOL and sleep efficiency, were associated with pain sensitivity in a dose-response manner. Adjusting for demographics and psychological distress reduced the strengths of the hazard ratios, but most associations remained significant in the fully adjusted models. There was also a synergistic interaction effect on pain tolerance when combining insomnia and chronic pain. We conclude that sleep problems significantly increase the risk for reduced pain tolerance. Because comorbid sleep problems and pain have been linked to elevated disability, the need to improve sleep among patients with chronic pain, and vice versa, should be an important agenda for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Pain Threshold / psychology*
  • Pressure / adverse effects
  • Self Report
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / epidemiology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Sleep*
  • Temperature