And doing it better than other drugs can.
A new study has found that caffeine, the active ingredient in your morning brew, is more effective at treating pains than widely available painkillers like ibuprofen, and even morphine.
However, it is worth noting that caffeine was only effective on treating pain combined with sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation is known to cause increased sensitivity to pain, Dr Chloe Alexandre, sleep physiologist, explained: “We found that five consecutive days of moderate sleep deprivation can significantly exacerbate pain sensitivity over time in otherwise healthy mice.”
But when it comes to treating sleep related pain, even heavy-duty painkillers like morphine were found to be relatively ineffective.
Whereas caffeine was able to overcome this by prompting the release of the pleasure chemical, dopamine, in the human brain.
Dr Kiran Maski, a specialist in sleep disorders, said: “Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities.
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The researchers conclude that rather than just taking painkillers, patients with chronic pain might benefit from better sleep habits or sleep-promoting medications at night.
This would need to be coupled with daytime alertness-promoting agents (such as coffee) to try to break the pain cycle.
“This represents a new kind of analgesic that hadn’t been considered before, one that depends on the biological state of the animal,” said Clifford Woolf, director of the Kirby Centre.
“Such drugs could help disrupt the chronic pain cycle, in which pain disrupts sleep, which then promotes pain, which further disrupts sleep.”
While some painkillers on the market do already include some element of caffeine as an ingredient, its mechanism of action isn’t yet known.
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