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Eur J Pain. 2009 Nov;13(10):1043-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpain.2008.12.007. Epub 2009 Jan 24.

Sleep continuity and architecture: associations with pain-inhibitory processes in patients with temporomandibular joint disorder.

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  • 1Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Department of Anesthesiology, USA.


Recent research suggests bi-directional interactions between the experience of pain and the process of sleep; pain interferes with the ability to obtain sleep, and disrupted sleep contributes to enhanced pain perception. Our group recently reported, in a controlled experimental study, that sleep fragmentation among healthy adults resulted in subsequent decrements in endogenous pain inhibition. The present report follows up that observation by extending this line of research to a sample of patients experiencing persistent pain. Patients with chronic temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) pain were studied using polysomnography and psychophysical evaluation of pain responses. We assessed whether individual differences in sleep continuity and/or architecture were related to diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC), a measure of central nervous system pain inhibition. Among 53 TMD patients, higher sleep efficiency and longer total sleep time were positively associated with better functioning of DNIC (r=0.42-0.44, p<0.01; ps<0.05 for the multivariate analyses). These results suggest the possibility that disrupted sleep may serve as a risk factor for inadequate pain-inhibitory processing and hint that aggressive efforts to treat sleep disturbance early in the course of a pain condition might be beneficial in reducing the severity or impact of clinical pain.

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