A new research carried out at the University of California by Professor Matthew Walker and doctoral candidate Adam Kruse says that sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on the way your brain reacts to pain. As per this study, lack of sleep can increase a person’s sensitivity to pain as well as hamper the brain’s response to relieve one of it.
For the purpose of this study, 18 young individuals who were healthy and didn’t have any pain or sleep related disorders were exposed to pain. Their legs were applied heat, the intensity of which was raised while examining their brains’ activity with an MRI scan. Activity in the part of the brain which is responsible for processing pain was noted.
Recordings of the participants’ pain threshold were taken. The same procedure was repeated once again but this time after a sleepless night. The second time, participants were more sensitive to pain at low temperatures of heat. This showed that they were more sensitive to pain after spending a night sans sleep.
Results of this study, which has been published in Journal of Neuroscience, concluded that at same levels of pain, the brain’s response is different based on whether or not one is sleep deprived. Secondly, the somatosensory cortex of the brain which regulates pain sensitivity is hyperactive when one is not well slept. In simpler words this means one’s threshold for pain is lower when he is sleep deprived.
Moreover, the activity of the brain’s nucleus accumbens is lower when one is struggling with sleep loss. This part of the brain is responsible for the release of dopamine, a chemical that makes one cope with pain. Last but not the least, it was found that the brain’s insula, which is the part that assesses pain and regulates pain response is also underactive after a sleepless night.