For specific groups of young adults, sleep problems were a predictor of chronic pain and worsening pain severity over time.
Dr Irma J. Bonvanie and colleagues analyzed “bidirectional” relationships between sleep problems and pain in a follow-up study of young adults, ages 19-22. The study focused on overall chronic pain as well as specific types of pain: musculoskeletal, headache, and abdominal pain.
The long-term associations between sleep problems and three pain types were compared between the sexes, and the mediating effects of anxiety and depression, fatigue, and physical activity were explored. The study included approximately 1,750 young Dutch men and women who were followed for three years.
About half of young people who had sleep problems at the initial evaluation still had them three years later. At baseline, subjects with sleep problems were more likely to have chronic pain and had more severe musculoskeletal, headache, and abdominal pain.
Three years later, those with sleep problems were more likely to have new or persistent chronic pain. Overall, 38 percent of emerging adults with severe sleep problems at initial evaluation had chronic pain at follow-up, compared with 14 percent of those without initial sleep problems.
The relationship between sleep problems and pain was stronger in women than men–a difference that may start around older adolescence/emerging adulthood. Fatigue appeared to be a modest mediating factor, while anxiety/depression and lack of physical activity were not significant contributors.