Here’s another reason to drink up when you’re short on sleep
When you’re short on sleep, that morning cup of coffee is just what you need to boot your brain into gear. But it might have another surprising benefit, too: Caffeine may help the blunt pain, new research in Nature Medicine suggests.
In the study, researchers entertained mice with new toys and activities to persuade them to stay awake—a non-stressful way to mimic the sleep deprivation you’d likely experience binge-watching Netflix way after bedtime. After five days of moderate sleep deprivation, the mice reacted more strongly to painful stimuli, showing they were more sensitive to pain. (Here are 5 more crazy things that happen when you’re short on sleep.
Then, they tested standard pain-relieving drugs like ibuprofen and morphine to see if they blocked the extra pain triggered by sleep deprivation. Surprisingly, ibuprofen didn’t help relieve the aches, and even morphine—a strong opioid used for severe pain—lost most of its effectiveness. This suggests that people using these pain meds when they’re short on sleep might be tempted to up their doses to see an effect, which may raise their risk of side effects, the researchers say in a press release.
But when the researchers gave the mice wakefulness-promoting drugs like caffeine and modafinil—a prescription stimulant used to treat narcolepsy and sleep apnea—those drugs successfully blocked the pain triggered by sleep loss. (When the mice were rested, neither drug showed any pain-relieving properties.
Caffeine and modafinil both boost dopamine in the brain, which may play a role in pain relief, though exactly how they work is unclear, the researchers say.
The results of this study suggest that getting solid sleep and supplementing your shuteye with wakefulness-promoting agents—say, like your cup of coffee—can both be successful strategies for easing chronic pain, they believe.
More research is needed in humans to determine exactly what duration of sleep is necessary for keeping pain in check, and to see if caffeine is helpful in reducing this pain in people, too.