Sleep extension reduces pain sensitivity

Sleep Med. 2019 Feb;54:172-176. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2018.10.023. Epub 2018 Nov 8.


Introduction: Insufficient sleep increases pain sensitivity in healthy individuals. Additionally, extending sleep (eg, increasing nocturnal sleep time or adding a mid-day nap) has been shown to restore pain sensitivity to baseline levels in sleep deprived/restricted individuals. Whether sleep extension can reduce pain sensitivity beyond baseline levels in non-sleep restricted/deprived individuals remains unknown.

Methods: In a sample of 27 healthy, pain-free, normally-sleeping individuals (17 males, mean age ∼24 yrs), we examined the impact of five nights of sleep extension on pain sensitivity. Pain threshold (elapsed time until the participant reported pain) and pain tolerance (total time the participant kept the hand submerged in the cold water) were measured using the Cold Pressor Task. Furthermore, we assessed the extent to which self-reported sleep amount in relation to the minimal subjective sleep requirement for adequate performance (sleep credit) was associated with pain sensitivity changes.

Results: On average individuals slept almost 2 extra hours per night. Our results indicate that sleep extension increases pain tolerance beyond baseline levels. However, sleep extension did not impact pain threshold. We also found that individuals with a smaller sleep credit (ie, those who habitually obtain less sleep than they feel they need) experienced greater increases in pain tolerance after extending sleep.

Conclusions: The present findings suggest that sleep extension may increase pain tolerance but not pain threshold in healthy individuals who normally sleep the recommended amount. Our findings also support the idea that sleep credit may be a strong indicator of sleep debt in the context of pain sensitivity.

Keywords: Long sleep; Pain; Pain threshold; Pain tolerance; Sleep; Sleep extension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Self Report
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult