Saturday, December 1, 2012

Longer sleep time reduces pain sensitivity

A good night's sleep is necessary to function properly, but the exact function of this peculiar state of hibernation is still unknown. It is hypothesized that sleep is needed to give the brain the ability to process memories, as well restore several other functions. Recent research has shown that, if we do not sleep well, it makes us want to eat more, as well as crave for more unhealthy food. Now, a study has shown that an increase in sleep time is able to reduce pain sensitivity.

A recent study, published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, involved 18 healthy volunteers that underwent a sleep experiment. They were either assigned to maintain their normal sleeping pattern, or to extend it by staying in bed for 10 hours; it was not mentioned how long the normal sleeping pattern was for each participant, but this is likely to be less than 10 hours. The scientists then assessed whether having a prolonged sleep affected pain sensitivity.

There are many ways to cause pain, but most of them are not very ethical to perform in an experimental setting. In the sleep study, the scientists measured pain sensitivity by looking at how long it took before the participants removed their finger from a heat source. And the researchers found that in the group that was allowed to sleep for 10 hours each night, the participants kept their finger 25 percent longer on the heat source, when compared to the group that was constrained to their normal sleeping pattern.

Naturally, the study does not provide insight in how exactly sleep is linked to pain sensitivity. The way the scientists measured it in this study is quite indirect, and it tells us nothing about the underlying mechanisms in the body. It does add to the mysteries surrounding the function of sleep: while we continue to learn more about how sleep affects various functions and parts of our body, we are still not quite grasping what it is that sleep does exactly.

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