Relationship Between Sleep and Fibromyalgia

Photo: Illustration of a nerve cell

I just did a little exercise for myself and I want to share the results, and then share a new way of looking at the relationship between sleep and fibromyalgia. The exercise was to ask, “if I wanted to learn about the current thinking about fibromyalgia in the scientific and medical community, where would I look?” What field of study would be the best source of information about fibromyalgia? I don’t know much about fibromyalgia other than it has something to do with chronic pain. Because of the association with pain, I figured Neurology would be a good place to start. So I went to one of my favorite sources, Nature Reviews Neurology. I did find a few references, but I was also directed to Nature Reviews Rheumatology, which I would not have expected. My point is this. Conditions like fibromyalgia are very complex, and many times, controversial. The information you need might not be found in the most obvious places, but you have to know when to keep digging and where to dig in order to find the information you need.

Illustration of a nerve cell
Photo: Illustration of a nerve cell
Andrej Vodolazhskyi, Shutterstock

Sleep and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a disease or condition characterized by chronic pain. Fibromyalgia sufferers have increased sensitivity to pain such that pain sensation may be triggered by stimuli that don’t normally cause pain. Light touch or even simple movements can cause the person to feel pain. To make matters worse, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia is not completely accepted within the medical community, kind of like adding insult to injury. As you might imagine, fibromyalgia suffereers are pretty miserable and often depressed. Many fibromyalgia sufferers have difficulty sleeping which exacerbates the feelings of exhaustion, pain, and depression.

New Development

Here’s the kicker–the new development. The association between fibromyalgia and sleep has been known for a long time. It has been assumed that suffering from fibromyalgia resulted in a disruption of normal sleep. Now it turns that we might have had this backward. Some investigators now believe that sleep disruption, or insomnia, may be one of the triggers of fibromyalgia, not the other way around. I know from personal experience that not being able to sleep is very serious and can lead to a variety of real and psychosomatic physical consequences. It is not surprising to me that some people could experience chronic pain¬†sensations as a result of prolonged sleep deprivation and the anxiety that accompanies it. If you read this post, and you know someone who suffers from fibromyalgia, find out if they are able to sleep. Find out if they started having trouble sleeping BEFORE they began to suffer from fibromyalgia. This might provide some additional treatment options to explore, if you haven’t explored this possibility¬†already.

Reference

Choy EH. 2015. The role of sleep in pain and fibromyalgia. Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2015 Apr 28. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2015.56. [Epub ahead of print]

Dr. Choy is in the Section of Rheumatology, Institute of Infection and Immunity, Cardiff University School of Medicine, Tenovus Building, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4XN, UK.

Author: Steve Anderson, Ph.D.

Steve Anderson has a Ph.D. in Immunology with over 25 years experience in biomedical research. His scientific expertise includes immunology, immunological diseases, tumor immunology, virology, and HIV pathogenesis.