Why do fibromyalgia and insomnia go together?

Insomnia and fibromyalgia

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Got fibromyalgia? Chances are you have fibromyalgia and insomnia. At the very least you probably deal with really crappy sleep. Insomnia for fibro patients means sleepless nights, tossing and turning, sometimes due to pain or discomfort. On other nights it’s due to racing thoughts. You probably also have problems simply falling asleep or even waking in the middle of the night, but unable to go back to sleep. And, of course, when you “wake” in the morning, you’re exhausted.

Maybe it’s because you have restless leg syndrome (RLS), which is very common among fibromyalgia patients. In fact, for some people, it appears that insomnia came first and then led to fibromyalgia. But there is so much mystery with fibromyalgia due in large part to the inconsistencies. That is to say, everyone’s fibro experience is different. And so is the reason they developed it in the first place. With that in mind, your insomnia probably looks different than mine, but it nevertheless effects 86% of fibromyalgia patients.

What causes insomnia when you have fibromyalgia?

Well, that’s a good question. Partly because it’s possible that insomnia can actually lead to fibromyalgia for some people. Furthermore, there are so many symptoms and conditions associated with fibromyalgia, that it’s almost impossible to determine the actual cause.

The National Sleep Foundation attributes the comorbidity of fibromyalgia and insomnia in patients to pain. “For people with fibromyalgia, the combination of pain and sleep disturbance is a double-edged sword: the pain makes sleep more difficult and sleep deprivation exacerbates pain. The good news is that reduction in sleep disturbance is usually followed by improvement in pain symptoms. This also highlights the importance of healthy sleep and to find a sleep professional in treating this disease.”

They reference a study consisting of deliberately sleep-deprived middle-aged women. Over the course of three days, their pain tolerance decreased while their pain and fatigue increased, “suggesting that such sleep disruption may play an important role in the development of fibromyalgia symptoms.” Many studies have been conducted to examine the connection between fibromyalgia and insomnia, as well as a myriad of other symptoms and related conditions. But nothing is conclusive. Again, we are back to the mystery.

What can I do for my fibromyalgia and insomnia?

The first thing you need to do it is have your sleep history thoroughly evaluated. You may be experiencing sleep disturbances without realizing the source. For example, for some reason sleep apnea affects many fibromyalgia patients, causing them to wake constantly because they aren’t breathing. Additionally, RLS is so disturbing to sleep that it is actually considered a sleep disorder.

Another issue to get checked for is verifying whether you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Or, worse yet…. both. In fact, you may be dealing with something else entirely, like hypothyroidism or other endocrine disorders. These will be treated in a very different way than fibromyalgia and that’s why it is important to officially rule them out.

Medications may be an option, but keep in mind that sleeping pills are not meant for chronic insomnia. A clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Mary Rose, explains that sleeping pills are only meant for short-term relief, often to get your sleep cycle back on track. Dr. Rose adds that she cautions her fibromyalgia patients struggling with good sleep against napping. Taking a nap during the day robs you of sleep at night.

Of course, there are other options that include making sleep a priority in your life. Dr. Natalie Dautovich of the National Sleep Foundation says that “making sleep a real priority can help you get more out of it.” She offers four tips to do this:

  • Limit or avoid caffeine all together
  • Limit alcohol, especially at night
  • Use medications when needed (Talk to your doctor about how and when to use them.)
  • Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and imagery training

When I was 19 years old, I developed insomnia and that led to excruciating headaches. To make matters worse, I am highly sensitive and didn’t know it. All of this is likely tied to my fibro symptoms. I spent years trying various options to help me sleep. Of them all, the two that have worked most consistently for me are calcium (combined with magnesium for absorption) and valerian root. As long as I take one or the other, I usually have a relatively decent night of sleep. If I skip more than two nights of taking it, I’m awake for hours and hours. And I feel like death the next day. Have you found something that works especially well for you? Tell us about it, please!

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