The NYTimes\’s Science section did several stories on sleep this past week. One of those stories quoted one of my doctors at Hopkins, Dr Michael Smith, and mentioned the big study he\’s been working on for the past few years — showing the connections between sleep and pain.
Michael T. Smith, the research and training director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, reached that conclusion with a study of healthy young people. One group slept normally for eight hours in the hospital. Another was awakened every hour by a nurse and kept up for 20 minutes. Their sleep pattern was meant to mimic the fragmented sleep of elderly people. A third group was allowed four hours of solid sleep.
Comparing the second and third groups allowed Dr. Smith to tease apart the causes of the problems that arise from fragmented sleep: were they because of the short total sleep time, or because of the disrupted nature of the sleep?
Fragmented sleep, he found, led to severe impairments the next day in pain pathways. The subjects felt pain more easily, were less able to inhibit pain, and even developed spontaneous pain, like mild backaches and headaches.
It still awes me that scientists are given hundreds of thousands of dollars to study things that seem so \”well, duh.\” Who doesn\’t feel more achy when they get less sleep than usual? I know that science likes to quantify as well as qualify, and that both are needed in order to find treatment, causation, and cures, but maybe if so many resources weren\’t spent on proving the obvious (and then, as is often the case, attempting to disprove it), maybe we would get farther faster.