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Poor sleep 'increases risk of widespread pain later in life'

Published on 13 February 2014
Poor sleep 'increases risk of widespread pain later in life'

Low-quality sleep could potentially be a contributor to widespread pain onset among adults over the age of 50, according to a new Arthritis Research UK study.

The Keele University research, published in the Arthritis & Rheumatology medical journal, aimed to identify the psychological and physical factors that can increase the risk of the development of widespread pain in older adults.

Researchers collected health, lifestyle and demographic data from 4,326 adults over the age of 50 who were free of widespread pain at the start of the study, before following up three years later to see whether their conditions had deteriorated.

Restless, non-restorative sleep was found to be one of the most significant predictors of an increased risk of widespread pain development after three years, as well as pre-existing pain status, anxiety, physical health-related quality of life and cognitive complaints.

These factors remained prevalent even when taking into account that some of the patients suffered from osteoarthritis, while it was also shown that widespread pain was less likely to develop as people grew older.

Dr John McBeth from the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre at Keele University in Staffordshire said: "While osteoarthritis is linked to new onset of widespread pain, our findings also found that poor sleep, cognition and physical and psychological health may increase pain risk. Combined interventions that treat both site-specific and widespread pain are needed for older adults."

Widespread pain that affects multiple areas of the body is a problem for 15 per cent of women and ten per cent of men over the age of 50. It is also recognised as a hallmark feature of fibromyalgia.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK commented: "This important research sheds further light on the relationship between poor sleep and widespread pain, or fibromyalgia.

"Brainwave studies have shown that people with this condition often lose deep sleep, and in an experiment where healthy volunteers were woken during each period of deep sleep, a number of them developed the typical signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia. A combination of pain, sleep disturbance and anxiety or depression can turn into a vicious circle.

"However, research has also shown that aerobic exercise improves fitness and reduces pain and fatigue, and should also improve sleep and wellbeing."

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