Sleep deprivation can make your physical aches more painful. The New York Times reports on a new study that begins to explain how that happens.
Why sleep deprivation amplifies pain is not fully worked out, but it has to do with how the body responds to an injury such as a cut or turned ankle. First, it hurts, as nerves send a blast up the spinal cord and into the brain. There, a network of neural regions flares in reaction to the injury and works to manage, or blunt, the sensation.
Think of the experience as a kind of physiological dialogue between the ground unit that took the hit and the command-control center trying to contain the damage. In a new study, a team of neuroscientists has clarified the nature of the top-down portion of that exchange, and how it is affected by sleep.
In a sleep-lab experiment, the researchers found that a single night of sleep deprivation reduced a person’s pain threshold by more than 15 percent and left a clear signature in the brain’s pain-management centers.