There is a strong evidence base for the association between sleep and pain. Researchers have grappled with the direction of causality—can sleep disturbance increase pain? Prospective studies have found evidence for sleep disturbance preceding pain exacerbations in individuals with chronic pain. Studies suggest that as little as _____ of sleep disturbance can result in increased pain.
Sleep is a highly complex process that is essential for recuperation, memory, emotional modulation, performance and learning.1 Disturbances in sleep have been shown to impact all areas of functioning as well as acute and chronic pain in children.2 The directionality between sleep and pain, where poor sleep results in increased pain or increased pain results in poor sleep, have been highly debated. In adult populations, more recent evidence has showed a stronger effect of poor sleep resulting in worsening pain as opposed to the bidirectional relationship that was previously thought.1 A single night of sleep deprivation in patients with arthritis resulted in increased self-reported pain.3 Further, experimental studies in healthy volunteers showed that two nights of poor sleep resulted in spontaneous bodily pain after partial sleep deprivation.3
The pediatric literature is less clear. In the acute pain setting, evidence seems to indicate that poor sleep was associated with greater next day pain.4 In youth with sickle cell disease, pain and sleep seemed to be bidirectional.5 Comorbidities and socioeconomic factors also affect sleep in children.6,7 Although further studies are needed to establish the sleep-pain relationship, poor sleep in children with pain should be addressed and improved.
1. Babiloni AH, De Koninck BP, Beetz G, De Beaumont L, Martel MO, Lavigne GJ. Sleep and pain: recent insights, mechanisms, and future directions in the investigation of this relationship. Journal of Neural Transmission. 2020;127:647-660.
2. Valrie CR, Bromberg MG, Palermo T, Schanberg LE. A Systematic Review of Sleep in Pediatric Pain Populations. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2013;34(2):120-8.
3. Finan, PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12): 1539-1552.
4. Rabbitts JA, Zhou C, Narayanan A, Palermo TM. Longitudinal and Temporal Associations Between Daily Pain and Sleep Patterns After major Pediatric Surgery. J Pain. 2017;18(6):656-663.
5. Fisher K, Laikin AM, Howard Sharp KM, Criddle CA, Palermo TM, Karlson CW. Temporal relationship between daily pain and actigraphy sleep patterns in pediatric sickle cell disease. J Behav Med. 2018;41(3):416-422.
6. Allen JM, Graef DM, Ehrentraut JH, Tynes BL, Crabtree VM. Sleep and Pain in Pediatric Illness: A Conceptual Review. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2016;22(11):880-893.
7. Evans S, Taub R, Tsao JCI, Meldrum M, Zeltzer LK. Sociodemographic factors in a pediatric chronic pain clinic: The roles of age, sex and minority status in pain and health characteristics. J Pain Manag. 2010;3(3):273-281.