Sleep loss increases the experience of pain. However, the brain mechanisms underlying altered pain processing following sleep deprivation are unknown. Moreover, it remains unclear whether ecologically modest night-to-night changes in sleep, within an individual, confer consequential day-to-day changes in experienced pain. Here, we demonstrate that acute sleep deprivation amplifies pain reactivity within human (male and female) primary somatosensory cortex yet blunts pain reactivity in higher-order valuation and decision-making regions of the striatum and insula cortex. Consistent with this altered neural signature, we further show that sleep deprivation expands the temperature range for classifying a stimulus as painful, specifically through a lowering of pain thresholds. Moreover, the degree of amplified reactivity within somatosensory cortex following sleep deprivation significantly predicts this expansion of experienced pain across individuals. Finally, outside of the laboratory setting, we similarly show that even modest nightly changes in sleep quality (increases and decreases) within an individual determine consequential day-to-day changes in experienced pain (decreases and increases, respectively). Together, these data provide a novel framework underlying the impact of sleep loss on pain and, furthermore, establish that the association between sleep and pain is expressed in a night-to-day, bidirectional relationship within a sample of the general population. More broadly, our findings highlight sleep as a novel therapeutic target for pain management within and outside the clinic, including circumstances where sleep is frequently short yet pain is abundant (e.g., the hospital setting).
- Sleep deprivation
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