By Ross McGuinness

A cup of coffee could be just what the doctor ordered, according to a study.

Scientists have claimed that caffeine can be a more effective painkiller than ibuprofen and even morphine.

However, it was only found to be effective against pain combined with sleep deprivation.

Researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston made their findings after examining the behaviour of lab mice.

The animals were kept awake for as long as 12 hours for five consecutive days, then exposed to heat, cold, pressure or capsaicin, the chemical in hot chilli peppers.

When measuring how long it took the animal to move away or lick away the discomfort caused by capsaicin, the researchers showed caffeine blocked sensitivity to the pain.

Sleep physiologist Dr Chloe Alexandre, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, said: ‘We found that five consecutive days of moderate sleep deprivation can significantly exacerbate pain sensitivity over time in otherwise healthy mice.

‘The response was specific to pain, and was not due to a state of general hyper-excitability to any stimuli.’

The researchers found that common drugs such as ibuprofen did not block increased pain sensitivity caused by sleep loss. Even morphine lost most of its effect, the study found.

Dr Alexandre said this suggests patients using these drugs for pain relief might have to increase their dose, increasing their risk for side effects.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, suggested that, rather than just taking painkillers, patients with chronic pain might benefit from sleeping pills coupled with regular daytime doses of caffeine.

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Dr Kiran Maski, a specialist in sleep disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, said: ‘Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities.

‘This study suggests a novel approach to pain management that would be relatively easy to implement in clinical care.

‘Clinical research is needed to understand what sleep duration is required and to test the efficacy of wake-promoting medications in chronic pain patients.’

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