Sleep disorders can affect a wide variety of health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. Now add fibromyalgia to the list. A new study found women who have a hard time getting to sleep, or staying asleep, have a three to five times greater likelihood of developing fibromyalgia than those who have no problems sleeping.
Fibromyalgia is the most common arthritis-related illness second only to osteoarthritis. Sufferers experience chronic widespread pain and a heightened and painful response to pressure. More than 12 million Americans have the condition, and most are women.
In the past, researchers have reported a link between poor sleep habits and increased inflammation, as well as a reduction in the ability of the body to manage pain. But this study is different. Rather than showing fibromyalgia causes sleep problems, it reports the possibility that sleep disorders can actually trigger fibromyalgia.
Researchers at Trondheim’s Norwegian University of Science and Technology followed 12,350 women from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. All of the women were aged 20 years and older and were free from chronic pain at the start of the study. While about two-thirds of the study subjects reported no sleeping difficulties, another group reported sometimes experiencing insomnia or other sleep disturbances, and a third group reported frequent sleep problems.
After a decade, findings revealed that 327 women (2.6 percent) had developed fibromyalgia. Among those who suffered occasional sleep issues at the beginning of the study, the risk for developing the illness was doubled; those who frequently suffered from sleep problems were found to have a three and one-half times greater likelihood of developing the condition.
And age matters. The scientists also discovered that women in the study aged 45 years and older, who reported frequent sleep problems, had a five times greater risk for developing fibromyalgia than women who suffered no sleep disturbances.
Researchers caution that the study has certain limitations. For example, since the women reported their own symptoms as well as their sleep disturbances, the data is subjective. Plus, certain conditions weren’t factored in, such as anxiety, menopausal status, or a history of physical or psychological trauma – all of which have been shown to affect fibromyalgia.
Before coming to a solid conclusion, scientists agree further investigation is a must. The study appeared in the journal "Arthritis and Rheumatism."