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Harvard Health Blog
Why coffee might ease your pain (especially if you’re a sleepy mouse)
- By Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Dr. Shmerling, thank you for this article as the research you wrote about was really interesting! I had a question regarding caffeine and pain: is it possible for caffeine to induce pain and headaches instead of reversing it? One of my friends states that coffee causes her extreme headaches so she avoids drinking it. Similarly, if sleep deprivation causes heightened pain sensitivity, would the amount of caffeine administered be minute so that the caffeine does not contribute to more sleep deprivation? Thank you!
From my own personal experience – caffeine alone eliminates pain caused by sinus migraine, sleep deprivation and sudden humidity changes. I slept very little/not at all on 2 nights before flying to hot/humid NYC in the afternoon from milder temp/bone-dry Portland, OR (and the dry airplane) in late summer. Didn’t have my usual coffee (or Excedrin which has caffeine) the day I arrived because was hoping to get to sleep early (I did take plain aspirin with no caffeine – which gave me no relief from the headache). Was completely unable to sleep that night because headache pain was so severe. But in the a.m. had 2 cups coffee, and 2 Excedrin — and was miraculously pain free and felt fine for that entire day!!
If you want to test sleep-deprived subjects, ask specifically for humanities professors with arthritis–we bring unavoidable sleep-deprivation and chronic pain with us. Especially effective if you do the testing in winter or rainy season. Most of us average 4-6 hours’ sleep a night, which seems to aggravate arthritis pain, as does cold and/or damp. I’ve always noticed my pain sensitivity going down after a 7-8 hour night of sleep, and in the dry part of summer, and coffee helps (I have to avoid ibuprofen and aspirin).
Maybe I’m a mouse!
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