Research Digest

Lab notes: Lack of sleep can worsen pain after surgery but caffeine can help

A new study find the mechanism by which caffeine can reduce post-operative pain.

Doctors and medical researchers have long pointed o how essential sleep is for good health and how a chronic lack of sleep can lead to many health problems. Now, a team of scientists has demonstrated that sleep before a surgery plays an important role in reducing post-operative pain.

The researchers worked on the premise that the relationship between sleep and pain is reciprocal and that several studies demonstrated that pre- and postoperative sleep disturbances worsen pain and predict the onset of long-term postoperative pain.”

They set out to examine whether brief, total sleep deprivation in rats immediately before surgery worsens postoperative pain and increases recovery time, predicting that such a disturbance would worsen postoperative pain. After using a rat surgical model to test their hypothesis and on examining the data, the team found that extended wakefulness prior to surgery significantly enhanced postoperative pain behaviors in rats and extended recovery time after surgery.

But the team also wanted to examine if treatments or interventions could minimise the effect of sleep loss by reducing the severity of the pain. They decided to analyse the effect of the widely-used stimulant caffeine. They found that caffeine blocked the increase in surgical pain caused by previous sleep loss, but only on those rats that underwent sleep deprivation before surgery. This has led the researchers to conclude that the effect is not due to caffeine’s analgesic properties but because caffeine might block part of the neurochemical changes induced by sleep deprivation in specific brain areas that control sleep and wakefulness, and project to pain-related sites.

The researchers say that their results, published in the journal Sleep, are relevant because sleep disorders and insufficient sleep are highly prevalent problems in society. Patients also often travel long distances during nights or early mornings before being admitted into the hospital for elective surgery. Ad thus do not get adequate sleep before surgery.

The team says more studies are required on the subject.

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