If you're suffering with fibromyalgia, there's a good chance you might also be having a difficult time enjoying a good night's sleep. Those who have fibromyalgia report a wide range of sleep difficulties, including a hard time getting to sleep, continual awakening throughout the night, as well as sleep apnea (characterized by abnormal breathing) and restless leg syndrome (an overwhelming urge to move the legs).
According to the American College of Rheumatology, approximately one in 50 Americans are estimated to have fibromyalgia, or between 3 and 6 million people. In fact, fibromyalgia is the second most common ailment affecting the musculoskeletal system after osteoarthritis. Ninety percent of those diagnosed with the disease are women.
People with fibromyalgia complain about waking exhausted with no energy. Usually, they feel more tired in the morning, and many go back to sleep during the day to deal with their exhaustion. As a result of lack of sleep, it's not unusual for fibromyalgia sufferers to have great difficulty concentrating during the day, a condition called "fibro fog."
That's because people with fibromyalgia lack the deep, restorative level of sleep, called "non-rapid-eye-movement" (non-REM) sleep. Some researchers believe it's the constant pain of fibromyalgia that causes sleep interruptions. Others have found evidence that fibromyalgia may be related to an abnormality of deep sleep. Findings have shown abnormal brain waves form in deep sleep with fibromyalgia patients. These patients tell of feeling "awake" or being in a shallow state of sleep throughout the night, instead of experiencing restful, deep- level sleep.
Whatever the underlying cause of sleep problems, there are ways to deal with them.
Try to avoid napping or hanging out in bed. Long periods in bed have been shown to trigger fragmented and shallow sleep.
Keep a sleep diary. Write down how you slept each night and what may have interfered with your sleep. You may gain insight into your particular insomnia.
Wake up at a regular time each morning, even on the weekend. Research shows this can lead to regular times of sleep onset.
Try relaxation therapies like deep breathing, yoga stretches, mediation and massage.
Exercise. It's been shown that regular exercise can promote deep REM sleep. But finish any strenuous physical activities at least three hours before bedtime.
Make your bedroom conducive to sleep. Get shades that keep out the light and a white-noise machine to drown out any outside sounds.
Keep the temperature in your room cool. An excessively warm room disturbs sleep.
Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evening.
If these strategies don't work, speak to your doctor, who may recommend medication.
Robin Westen is ThirdAge's medical reporter. Check for her daily updates.
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