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Sleep, Stress, and Pain: Hopkins Nurse Explores the Connections

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Posted: 11/15/2010

"Pain and sleep go hand-in-hand," says Gayle Page, DNSc, RN, FAAN, who has made her career studying the stress of experiencing pain.  The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (JHUSON) professor is now deepening her understanding of sleep behavior and measurement, with a new Mentored Career Development Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The NHLBI awards, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, enable mid-career and senior researchers to develop new knowledge and skills to enrich their program of research.  Over the 12-month grant period, she will learn to interpret sleep phases, read electroencephalogram (EEG) results, and become more proficient in understanding scientific sleep literature.

"The funding will allow me to broaden my scope of work and conduct more detailed research on the effects of pain and stress on sleep," says Page.  Her new knowledge will be put into practice with a pilot study, in which laboratory rats will be exposed to a "social defeat"--entering the cage of another rat until they assume a submissive body posture.  These rats will no longer prefer a sweet treat of sugar water, indicating an inability to experience pleasure that is typically observed in humans with depression.   Page will also look for biological indicators of depression known to occur in humans, and monitor whether the depression affects the rats' sleep patterns.

For the duration of the award, Page will work with mentor Mark Opp, PhD, professor and Vice Chair for Basic Research in the Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine at the University of Washington.  Opp has also been a mentor to Page's long-time collaborator and research partner, JHUSON assistant professor Sharon Kozachik, PhD, RN.

As a scientist who has spent years pursuing a pain research agenda, the opportunity to develop a new area of knowledge "will challenge me and keep me engaged," says Page.  "I have the good fortune to be able to study something new and challenging--and have fun doing it."