Study Suggests Caffeine Can Reduce Chronic Pain


Caffeine can help alleviate pain exacerbated by sleep deprivation, according to a study conducted on mice and published this week in the journal Nature: Medicine.

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) set out to test moderate, cumulative sleep deprivation and its effect on pain — employing techniques to keep mice awake closely associated with how humans tend to lose sleep, a little too much mental stimulation before going to bed.

“We developed a protocol to chronically sleep-deprive mice in a non-stressful manner, by providing them with toys and activities at the time they were supposed to go to sleep, thereby extending the wake period,” Chloe Alexandre, of BIDMC, told Science Daily. “This is similar to what most of us do when we stay awake a little bit too much watching late-night TV each weekday.”

The researchers then tested the mice for their tolerance of pain, exposing them to controlled amounts of heat, cold, pressure or being exposed to capsaicin, the heat agent in chili peppers, Science Daily reported.

They found that sleep-deprived mice had a much lower tolerance for such stimuli. When researchers introduced ibuprofen and morphine, they found these drugs had limited impact on pain tolerance.
They did, however, find that caffeine and modanfinil, a medication used to promote wakefulness and treat narcolepsy, did increase pain tolerance.

When mice were not sleep-deprived, they had a higher tolerance for pain, showing that returning to a normal sleep cycle has equal, positive benefits.

The researchers conclude that for chronic pain sufferers, finding ways to improve sleep coupled with waking agents could help reduce pain in ways that painkillers can not.

“Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities,” Dr. Kiran Maski, a specialist in sleep disorders at Boston Children’s, told Science Daily. “This study suggests a novel approach to pain management that would be relatively easy to implement in clinical care.