Fibromyalgia and Sleep Issues
The cycle of the human body is fascinating on many levels. One of the most important regenerative processes of the body is that of sleep.
Adequate sleep is crucial to every aspect of our health. Those dealing with the effects of fibromyalgia, know all too well, that proper sleep can be elusive and hard to achieve.
As I sit down to write this article, ironically, I have been dealing with a major flare-up that has disrupted my sleep and turned my sleep patterns topsy-turvy. I have been sleep deprived for days, until utter exhaustion, only to find myself so fatigued that I have slept for 12-14 hours unable to re-energize and wake refreshed.
What is it about fibromyalgia that wreaks so much havoc in our sleep patterns?
Causes of Lack of Sleep with Fibromyalgia
Many researchers believe people living with fibromyalgia don't get enough deep sleep. In fact, 2 to 10 percent of the population suffer from fibromyalgia and about three-quarters of those who live with fibromyalgia have sleep complaints. The most common is a feeling of non-refreshing or non-restorative sleep.
For those who have fibromyalgia, it doesn’t seem to matter how many hours you sleep, sleep is usually not restorative, so people wake up tired rather than refreshed. This is likely due to an insufficient amount of the deepest and most restorative type of sleep.
To better understand sleep cycles, researchers have identified three types of sleep – light sleep (stages 1 and 2), deep sleep (stages 3 and 4), and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
If you don't spend enough time in deep sleep, your body lessens the production of important hormones. Decreased production of such hormones may increase pain in people with fibromyalgia.
Similarly, if you don't experience enough REM sleep, your body may produce less cortisol (though the hormone, which controls blood pressure and blood sugar, may be released at any time during sleep). People with fibromyalgia may have low levels of cortisol, which contributes to their excessive fatigue.
Research and Findings
Researchers gathered a group of healthy volunteers in a research experiment. When deprived of REM sleep, they developed symptoms of fibromyalgia in a few days: fatigue, cognitive difficulties, irritability, and muscle aches. After disrupting deep sleep nightly for 7 to 14 days, their symptoms were indistinguishable from patients with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia and Sleep Problems
Other sleep problems many people with fibromyalgia face are insomnia, restless leg syndrome (RLS), sleep apnea and sleep paralysis.
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Frequent awakenings or waking early
- Phase shifting (hard to fall asleep until early morning hours)
Insomnia is prevalent in fibromyalgia. Keep in mind that a person’s level of tiredness has nothing whatsoever to do with their ability to get to sleep or stay asleep. It is mistakenly assumed by many that if you are tired enough, you will sleep. This is not the case for someone with insomnia.
Beneficial treatments for insomnia include cognitive behavioral therapy and good sleep hygiene. If you're looking for some excellent sleep hygiene tips, you can find them on the next page.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
- Restless legs
- Periodic leg movements
RLS causes unpleasant and often painful sensations in the legs that force the body to move the legs, to reduce the sensation. The incidence of restless legs syndrome has been found to be in more than 50 percent of people with fibromyalgia, as opposed to seven percent of the general population.
People with anemia may develop RLS. Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and peripheral neuropathy, are associated with RLS. RLS can also occur when the person is awake. On the other hand, antidepressant medications may also trigger RLS. This possibility should be considered if your symptoms began after initiation of mood therapy.
Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment
Fibromyalgia patients experience improvement in their symptoms of fatigue and sleepiness when restless leg syndrome is treated. Some tactics include:
- Self-management techniques involve reducing caffeine and other stimulants, leg exercises, using hot or cold baths or showers, and taking supplements to counteract deficiencies in iron, folate, and magnesium.
- Prescription medications include sedatives, drugs affecting dopamine, pain relievers and anticonvulsants. Three of the more commonly used medicines for RLS are the pills Requip and Mirapex, and the patch Neupro.