Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Veterans Fight with Light


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Nearly half of all returning veterans deal with chronic pain – and they are four-times more likely to develop sleep problems. Now, researchers are looking at light to help treat both of these issues.

Army veteran Lisa Smith has lived with sleep problems and chronic pain for decades.

Smith says, “I was not able to sleep, no. It’s lower back, my lower back bothered me a whole lot.”

So, she took part in a study to see if bright light therapy could help both her insomnia and her pain. Researchers from Rush University Medical Center are studying whether sitting in front of a bright light box for an hour first thing in the morning could improve symptoms for veterans like Lisa. The theory is the light advances your day cycle – so your body releases melatonin earlier. That could lead to improved sleep – and as a result: less pain!

John Burns, PhD, Clinical Psychologist at Rush University Medical Center says, “If you haven’t slept in a while, you’re more sensitive to pain.”

The bright light worked for Lisa!

Smith says, “You know, I don’t remember having back pain after that. In three or four days I started really realizing that I’m going to have to set my alarm now to get up because I’m not awake.”

A different published study recently found people with PTSD reported better sleep and fewer symptoms after exposure to blue light therapy.

A simple solution that could solve some big problems for veterans.

Doctor Burns says the bright light boxes are already commercially available and are relatively inexpensive. The study on light boxes is federally funded.

Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.



REPORT #3054

BACKGROUND: Patients suffering from chronic pain often find their problems are linked with insomnia and sleeping disorders. Among those with chronic pain, an estimated 50 to 80 percent have ongoing sleep difficulties. Many chronic pain patients report awakening frequently during the night. Research has revealed that individuals experiencing chronic lower back pain may experience several intense “microarousals”, or a change in sleep state to a lighter stage of sleep, per hour of sleep. This leads to awakenings which is often the cause of non-restorative sleep. Individuals with chronic pain often experience less deep sleep, more awakenings during the night, as well as less efficient sleep. This non-restorative sleep pattern can then cause diminished energy, depressed mood, fatigue, and worse pain during the day.


LIGHT THERAPY MAY BE THE ANSWER: Also known as phototherapy, light therapy may help improve a person’s quality of sleep by affecting certain brain chemicals associated with sleep and mood. Light therapy is exposure to a light source that’s brighter than typical indoor light, but not as bright as direct sunlight. It involves using a light box for a specific length of time at the same time every day. This type of therapy can be used for several different types of conditions, including various sleep disorders, jet lag, depression, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Insomnia has to do with the disruption of your circadian rhythm which is the part of your body’s internal clock that causes you to feel alert and awake during the daytime and sleepy at night. When your circadian rhythm becomes disrupted, you can experience symptoms that range from daytime sleepiness to depression. When used correctly, light therapy can encourage a circadian rhythm reset which, in turn, may help improve sleep and other symptoms.


POTENTIAL NEW TREATMENT: Researchers at UC Davis are trying to create monoclonal antibodies, like those used to help patients fight off COVID-19 infections, that can help fight chronic pain with the goal to develop a monthly non-addictive pain medication that can replace opioids. Vladimir Yarov-Yarovoy and James Trimmer, professors in the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology at the UC Davis School of Medicine, are leading the project. “Monoclonal antibodies are the fastest growing sector of the pharmaceutical industry and have many advantages over classical small molecule drugs,” Trimmer said. Monoclonal antibodies, however, can circulate in the bloodstream for more than a month before they are eventually broken down by the body. The researchers anticipate that the patient would self-inject the monoclonal antibody pain medication once a month.


* For More Information, Contact:

John Burns, PhD

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