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Workshop Summary Highlights Research Gaps in Understanding How Sleep Impacts Pain

December 04, 2014
NCCAM Blog Team

Last week, NCCAM and its trans-NIH partners released Contribution of Sleep Disturbances to Chronic Pain, which summarizes a trans-NIH workshop held May 29-30, 2014, on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. NCCAM spearheaded the workshop, with D. Lee Alekel, Ph.D., Program Director in the Division of Extramural Research, leading the organizational and writing efforts.

The summary reports that, although emerging evidence indicates that sleep disturbances predict chronic pain, scientists do not understand the nature of this relationship. Research is needed to develop a translationally meaningful understanding of how poor sleep impacts pain.

A key objective of the workshop was to foster greater collaboration between sleep and pain investigators to conduct cross-cutting research on sleep/pain interactions. In particular, research is needed on how sleep disturbances impact chronic pain and to determine whether alleviating sleep disturbances will reduce chronic pain. Their specific charge was to identify:

  • Mechanistic gap areas/questions on neurobiological systems that operate in sleep and pain and their convergence to exacerbate or reduce pain, and
  • Clinical gap areas/questions focused on:
    • Experimental design and methodology, within the context of particular populations,
    • Mediators and mechanisms, and
    • Pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions.

The summary captures the state of the science; knowledge gaps; major themes; and recommended research approaches as identified by the participants. Greater knowledge could lead, they say, to discovering novel treatment approaches, or augmenting the existing ones (nonpharmacologic or pharmacologic), for related problems of sleep disturbances and chronic pain. Treatments that are able to transition from testing to delivery relatively quickly, are safe and low-cost, and are effective in real-world settings are particularly needed.

Read the full summary of the trans-NIH workshop here.  The sponsoring/participating NIH Institutes and Centers are listed in the appendix.

NCCAM also has information for consumers and health professionals on pain and sleep disorders.


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Many thanks to Dr. Alekel and her NIH colleagues for organizing this workshop to promote research on behalf of one-third of Americans who suffer from chronic pain.

This page last modified March 22, 2016