A new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that sleep problems may lead to increased pain and fatigue in cancer patients.
Previous research has shown that sleep problems are common in people who have cancer. A 2007 study in the journal Sleep found that 41 percent of people with cancer reported having chronic insomnia.
So why are the results of this new study surprising? It was expected that pain would be a cause of sleep problems. But instead the evidence pointed in the other direction; the study found that sleep problems may lead to an increase in pain.
“We believed we would find a bi-directional relationship between insomnia and pain,” study author Edward J. Stepanski told the AASM. “But instead…trouble sleeping was more likely a cause, rather than a consequence, of pain in patients with cancer.”
The study involved 11,445 cancer patients. About 74 percent were women; 29 percent had breast cancer. More than half of the study subjects reported having trouble sleeping; 26 percent had moderate or severe sleep problems. Increases in depressed mood also led to increased ratings of pain.
The average age of participants was 61.5 years. Younger people were more likely to have trouble sleeping. The authors suggest that this may be a treatment effect since younger patients often receive more aggressive chemotherapy.
Stepanski said that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help cancer patients who have insomnia. Improving their sleep may reduce their pain and fatigue.
A 2007 study in the journal Sleep showed that disturbed sleep can affect your pain threshold. It can impair how the body inhibits pain. It also can increase spontaneous pain.