In a new study, researchers found that opioids cannot help people with chronic pain to sleep better.
Instead, the drugs may disturb people’s sleep at night and cause health problems.
The research was done by an interdisciplinary team of psychologists and medics from the University of Warwick and Lausanne University Hospital, Switzerland.
Many people suffering from long-term chronic pain use opioids as a sleep aid to reduce pain and stop their sleep being disrupted.
Previous research has shown that taking opioids could help people sleep better.
But the current study shows that the evidence is limited and of poor quality.
In the study, the team did a systematic review of existing research on the effects of opioids on sleep.
They combined the results of 18 studies which were then narrowed down to 5 with comparable data.
They found that not enough research has been done to assess the benefits and risks of using painkillers for the purpose of improving sleep quality.
Those published studies on opioid effects on sleep quality were limited and of poor quality, often with potential publication bias and conflicts of interest, and rarely testing patients for sleep apnea prior to and during the study.
Some patients reported a small improvement in sleep quality when using opioids but that effect was not consistent with results derived from sleep assessment technologies.
The researchers warn that opioids are known to affect the brain parts that control breathing. This may lead to sleep apnea.
People may experience pauses or obstructions in breathing, like a choking sensation, resulting in snoring, gasping for air, dry mouth and even a headache in the morning.
Despite this, there was some evidence that low-medium dosed opioids could help improve sleep quality in some patients in the short term, but the effect was small and requires more research.
The team says that for people prescribed a high dose of opioid therapy it didn’t necessarily bring out better results.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Nicole Tang, from the University’s Department of Psychology.
The study is published in Sleep Medicine Reviews.
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