A new study in the journal PAIN® claims that sleep problems during young adulthood may indicate if some people will suffer from chronic pain or increasing pain severity over time. The study found that 38 percent of adults with sleep problems will come to the clinic reporting chronic pain.

According to researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, sleep problems may change the pain threshold, cause emotional or behavioural changes, all of which can increase pain. They add that this study suggests that targeting sleep problems may alleviate pain problems in some adults later in life.

The research involved studying 1,750 young Dutch men and women ages 19-22 years old. The researchers concentrated on overall chronic pain, headache, abdominal pain and musculoskeletal pain.

Sleep problems may be a predictor for chronic pain and pain severity in later life. Photo from Pixabay/geralt

Sleep problems may be a predictor for chronic pain and pain severity in later life. Photo from Pixabay/geralt

After a three-year follow-up, half of the participants who claimed to have sleep problems at the beginning still suffered from it.  Fourteen percent of those without sleep problems suffered from chronic pain while 38 percent with sleep problems experienced chronic pain.

Men with sleep problems were more likely to suffer from chronic pain. More women with sleep problems suffered from worsened severity of abdominal pain.

Abdominal pain was the only pain with increased pain  severity. Furthermore, they found out that sleep problems did not predict headache severity.

The researchers say that exhaustion seems to be a moderate mediating factor. However, depression, inactivity and depression did not affect the association between sleep problems and pain.  They point out that pain during young adulthood does not predict exacerbating sleep problems later on in life.

“Our findings indicate the sleep problems are not only a precursor for pain but actually predict the persistence of chronic pain and an increase in pain levels,” concludes the research team. “Our findings suggest that sleep problems may be an additional target for treatment and prevention strategies in female emerging adults with chronic pain and musculoskeletal pain.”