Fibromyalgia and Sleep: What's the Connection?

Poor sleep often takes away a lot of energy, and also makes the person with fibromyalgia more likely to be irritable, discouraged, and generally unwell. All this results in a worsening of the condition.
Fibromyalgia and Sleep: What's the Connection?

Written by Maite Córdova Vena, 02 August, 2021

Last update: 02 August, 2021

When we get a good night’s sleep, we wake up with the feeling that we have “renewed” ourselves. We have energy, we feel rested and encouraged, we move without difficulty and, in general, we manage to get “up and running” early for whatever we set out to do. However, this isn’t often the case for those who suffer from fibromyalgia. So, what’s the relationship between fibromyalgia and sleep?

The relationship between fibromyalgia and sleep is a difficult one. Good rest at night isn’t always achieved and this can both trigger and aggravate different symptoms. For this reason, taking care of your sleep is a key point in the treatment of this disease.

Fibromyalgia and sleep

Fibromyalgia and impaired sleep still hand in hand
Pain, which is one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, often causes problems sleeping. Frequent awakenings and poor quality of sleep are recurrent.

When dealing with the relationship between fibromyalgia and sleep, we must take into account that there are many interrelated factors. Let’s have a look at this in more detail through an example.

After we exercise, it’s normal for us to feel tired and to notice stiffness from time to time. Even so, as soon as our heads hit the pillow, or soon afterwards, we’re able to enjoy 7, 8, or more consecutive hours of restful sleep.

The next day, even when the soreness reminds us that we have done exercise, we won’t have too much discomfort or too many problems carrying out simple activities such as making coffee, going to work or vacuuming. We may be a little sore, but, generally, they won’t be too difficult to cope with.

However, a person with fibromyalgia is in constant pain. They often feel as if they have been “hit by a truck.” Everything hurts and every movement is a reminder of it.

This chronic pain is a discomfort that is present throughout the body and it’s a form of wear and tear on the body and mind. The pain and discomfort is there, day and night. For this reason, when they go to bed, several problems can arise.

The person may be so sore that they can’t easily relax and fall asleep. Or they may be sleepy and fall asleep, but wake up again and again throughout the night. Eventually, the next morning their body feels awful because they spent more time getting up and going back to bed than actual sleeping.

Another very common scenario in fibromyalgia patients is that even with 7-8 or more hours of sleep, they wake up equally tired. The latter makes fatigue, muscle aches, irritability and cognitive difficulties the order of the day, with greater intensity.

The quality of sleep in fibromyalgia tends to be low, given its lightness and frequent awakenings. This is considered both a cause and a consequence of the disease.

The impact of a lack of good sleep

The lack of sleep causes fibromyalgia patients to have to deal with:

  • Fatigue
  • Fibro fog (difficulty concentrating, typical of this disease)
  • Irritability
  • Low performance
  • Increased hypersensitivity
  • Stiffness and greater pain in the morning
  • Greater tendency to anxiety and depression

As for the ramifications that all of the above may have, according to the Guide for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia:

“In addition to sleep problems due to chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, most people with the two conditions experience sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.”

Treatment

Fibromyalgia and sleep can be improved
All the measures aimed at improving the quality of rest in these people are known as “sleep hygiene”.

According to the source cited above and other sources, it’s important to address the relationship between fibromyalgia and sleep in order to enjoy a good quality of life. In this sense, professionals agree that it’s necessary to provide the following recommendations to patients:

  • Establish a routine and respect it: Get up and go to sleep at the same time.
  • Take care of your surroundings: Lighting, temperature, sound, mattress, pillow, etc. It’s important to get the best possible environment in order to promote rest.
  • Provide yourself with a proper sleep ritual, which helps you relax in advance. Starting to dim the lights a couple of hours before going to sleep, practicing relaxation or mindfulness techniques, taking a relaxing bath, and performing other simple gestures of this type can contribute to a night’s rest.
  • Limit daytime naps (in case they are interfering with your night’s rest).
  • Avoid the consumption of caffeine, tea, alcohol, and tobacco in general, but especially in the evening hours.
  • Taking an infusion of chamomile or valerian, which have sedative and analgesic properties, could be a good complement to the previous measures.
  • Consultation with your doctor about using herbal sleep supplements and melatonin is recommended. Especially if you’re taking continuous drug treatment.

Although all these measures, in combination with a healthy lifestyle, can provide very good results, there are cases where it’s necessary to combine them with medication. This is usually the case for fibromyalgia patients who also suffer from sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

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