Sleep problems and fibromyalgia

Sleeping problems can exaggerate existing fibromyalgia symptoms such as stress, headaches and anxiety

BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
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An introduction to sleep problems and fibromyalgia

Not being able to get good quality rest time can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, sleep problems are all too common amongst fibromyalgia sufferers. However, many people notice a marked improvement in their symptoms after they have established a good sleeping pattern and routine.

Why does fibromyalgia cause sleep problems?

Fibromyalgia is not a condition which is fully understood, and although it is widely accepted that there is a link between sleep problems and fibromyalgia, the exact reason for this link has not yet been fully established.

However, as pain is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia, this may explain a little of the link. When in severe pain, it is difficult for the brain to switch off and relax. At night, there is little else to think about other than the pain you are in, and so it can seem worse at night. This can prevent you from falling asleep. However, it can also cause you to wake up repeatedly throughout the night and you are then likely to struggle to get back to sleep.

It is known that the melatonin-serotonin chemical balance in the brain regulates sleep. However, it is now also thought that fibromyalgia may be connected with a dis-regulation of the serotonin neurotransmitter. This would explain why the two conditions seem to be connected.

Additionally, as fibromyalgia patients often suffer from fatigue, this can lead them to continual napping throughout the day. This means that you tend not to be able to get good quality sleep at night, worsening fatigue, increasing napping, reducing good quality sleep and so on. Breaking this type of cycle is important.

What home remedies are there for sleep problems?

Establishing a good sleep routine is important as this often ensures a better quality of sleep and correct length of sleep than through artificial means, such as sleeping pills. Nice as the thought is, it is often easier said than done. However, there are some tips you can follow to help you ease your sleep problems.

As said, it is tempting for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome patients to spend much of the day resting. This is because of weakened muscles and lack of energy. However, this means that your body struggles to identify this difference between night and day and sleep and awake times. You should limit the amount of time spent resting during the day to a minimum and try to cut out napping altogether if possible. This will help your body to understand that night-time is for sleeping.

At night, try to keep your room as dark as possible and as quiet as possible. If you cannot block out the noise of traffic, for example, some people prefer to play some gentle music to help to lull them to sleep. Eliminate TVs, computers, phones etc. from the bedroom.

As fibromyalgia sufferers often struggle to sleep due to pain, it is important to try to make your sleeping environment as comfortable as possible. Find a mattress which is firm and supportive but which does not put pressure on tender points. Sometimes a memory mattress is best. Make sure that your pillows support your head but do not bend it at an awkward angle. Hot water bottles and other types of heat patches can help with sore points, although it is important not to burn yourself.

Are there herbal remedies to help me?

Many people find that a herbal supplement is also beneficial. Unlike conventional sleeping pills, these are not intrusive to the body so help you to establish a natural sleeping pattern and rhythm.

  • Drops of lavender on the pillow may sound like something your granny might suggest, but some studies suggest that people go to sleep more quickly and wake up the next day feeling more refreshed if they have a couple of drops of lavender on the pillow. It has a relaxing and calming effect on the mind
  • Chamomile is also considered to be a calming herb. Sitting down with a cup of chamomile tea before bed time, not only helps you to relax and get sleepy before bedtime but gives the chamomile time to work its way into your system to help you feel relaxed and calm when trying to fall asleep
  • Valerian is a herb with traditional use as a natural tranquiliser, and is thought to help promote good sleeping patterns. Some studies also suggest that it has an antispasmodic effect on muscles, helping to reduce muscle tension and movement at night. Fresh extracts of this herb can be found in the licensed herbal remedy Dormeasan® Sleep.

What about conventional medicines?

If you are still struggling with sleep problems after trying home and herbal remedies your doctor may suggest some form of conventional treatment. This may include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a type of therapy which helps to change the way you think about and approach sleep. This may also be used to help with other fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain and anxiety.

Alternatively, he may suggest an over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pill. If this is the case, you should discuss the possible side-effects with him.

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