Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have pinpointed a little neurotransmitter that could hold the key to this sleep-pain conundrum, on the heels of a Nature Communications study that could revolutionize how we treat chronic pain. It's a notorious vicious cycle where sleep loss and pain dance a relentless tango; according to Weihua Ding, an MGH instructor on the pain medicine frontlines, the body's response to sleep deprivation intensifies pain just as much as pain can keep you wide-eyed and restless, as per research of The Harvard Gazette.
The joint team of investigators from MGH and Harvard Medical School is onto something with a neurotransmitter—manscamaled with the unassuming name NADA, or N-arachidonoyl dopamine. This endocannabinoid, also a casual acquaintance of the cannabinoid receptor, might sound familiar to folks leaning on marijuana for relief and could shift the tides in how nocturnal suffering is managed, according to The Harvard Gazette.
Shiqian Shen, the clinical director of MGH's Tele Pain Program, eloquently put it in the study: "Pain in human beings is a very subjective experience. "After sleep loss, even if there’s no exaggerated stimulation, we still feel pain. That means something internal is controlling the pain, like a room thermostat controlling temperature." It's a revelation that uncovers pain's abstract nature and its prevalent, tangible effects on our society—hitting those living in poverty, with less education, or on public health insurance hardest and costing upwards of $550 billion a year in medical and disability expenses.
The MGH team’s finding could pave the way for new, non-opioid treatments, as supplementing with NADA in mouse models showed promising returns in dampening pain perceptions post-sleep deprivation. Carry that over to the human condition, and we might see a future where pain doesn't dictate your bedtime story. Liuyue Yang, a research fellow at MGH and deeply invested in understanding this connection on a personal level, shared with the Harvard Gazette, "Sometimes, I don’t get enough rest, and the next day, I suffer from a severe headache and back pain," articulating a plight familiar to far too many. With Yang and his team's dedication, a more restful horizon might just be breaking for those plagued by the relentless throes of sleep-starved pain.