Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood and potentially disabling condition that causes widespread pain and a variety of other symptoms. It is more common in women than men. The condition is often mistaken for other illnesses or dismissed as stress.
While many studies have revealed clues about its causes, no definite conclusions have been reached. It has been suggested that the condition may be triggered by a combination of neurological, chemical, hormonal, immunological and environmental factors rather than having a single, universal etiology.
Symptoms and Sleep: The Hypothesis One prominent feature of the illness is a tendency towards disturbed sleep. Patients often wake feeling unrested or even exhausted after sleeping for periods that should have been more than adequate for health. Sleep studies have shown that some of these patients may not stay in the deepest stages of sleep long enough for the body to carry out its normal reparative processes. If a lack of quality sleep impedes the body’s ability to repair micro-damage to tissues caused by normal wear and tear, more symptoms may result.
The increased pain can cause further insomnia– creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates symptoms. Another possible issue is that the brain’s chemical makeup may be altered by inadequate sleep. This could hypothetically affect the way pain is perceived by the patient. Emotional stress from chronic exhaustion contributes to the growing list of sleep-related complications. Treating Sleep Problems There are a number of methods for improving sleep quality that can help the fibromyalgia patient.
When staying asleep or going into deep sleep is the problem, the tricyclic antidepressant drug amitriptyline is particularly useful; it has been shown in studies to increase the time spent in stage three and stage four sleep. Other prescription drugs may be useful if actually getting to sleep is a challenge. For those who want to avoid sleep-inducing medications, there are several natural products containing melatonin and various herbal remedies that may help. These should be researched thoroughly and used only under a doctor’s supervision. Practical Suggestions Healthier sleep can often be accomplished with a few good sleep habits.
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and large meals close to bedtime is advisable. If possible, the bedroom should be used for sleep and intimacy only. This helps create a subconscious cue to associate the room with sleep. Since stress can worsen symptoms, all possible measures to reduce it should be taken.
Relaxing activities before bed such as a warm bath, a massage, or quiet meditation can help facilitate sleep. Besides creating a feeling of relaxation, these therapeutic activities may also directly reduce pain. Many people fall asleep faster and sleep better with soft music, nature sounds, white noise, or delta wave recordings in the background. Problems with excess light in the room or outside noises should be addressed. Naps during the day should only be taken if necessary since this can affect later attempts to sleep.
Everyone is different; what works for one fibromyalgia patient may not work for another, but through trial and error it is possible to gain more control over the quality of sleep and significantly improve painful symptoms.