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Pillows Could Be More Effective than Pills for Treating Pain, Says New Sleep Study

Sleepless nights can make you much more sensitive to pain, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, which found that a single night of sleep deprivation can lower a person's pain threshold by 15 percent.

In the study, researchers took a group of 25 adults and measured their pain thresholds on two separate occasion. Once, after a full night's sleep and again after the group pulled an all-nighter. After the sleepless night, the participants' pain thresholds were anywhere from 15 to 30 percent lower than before.

And that wasn't just a side effect from being cranky. After taking brain scans of the participants, researchers found that sleep deprivation made the regions of the brain responsible for perceiving pain far more active than usual.

"So you have two things happening at once here," Dr. Matthew Walker—Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley and one of the study's lead authors—told The New York Times. "There's ramped up sensation to pain, and a loss of natural analgesic reaction. The fact that both of them happen was surprising."

This breakthrough could help physicians and patients learn new approaches to chronic pain, which is often treated with opioid painkillers that are highly addictive and potentially lethal. The new study suggests that a pillow could be as effective as a pill for managing pain. 

"Once we understand how sleep deprivation changes how these pathways function, we should be able to manage pain more effectively—all types of pain," said Michael J. Twery, director of the sleep disorders branch of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Of course, for patients suffering from chronic pain its exactly their symptoms that are keeping them up at nigh. The pain prevents them from sleep and the lack of sleep increases the pain. One way to combat that could be by recommending medical marijuana, which is both a great sleep aid and a much safer painkiller than opioids. 


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