Many nights, I found myself tossing and turning, unable to fall into a restful sleep. I was averaging 3 to 4 hours a night. I’d stare at the ceiling, willing my body to give up, to surrender to the beckoning sand man. I read books. I took soothing hot showers. I waited until I was really tired to go to bed. I had sex. I didn’t have sex. I ate early in the night allowing myself no food close to bedtime. I took baths. I lit candles. I exercised. I even tried counting sheep, which is ridiculous, but I was desperate. Eventually, I assumed this was my “normal” and how I was meant to be.
Extremely frustrating, not to mention exhausting. Most of my life I’ve struggled with sleep and it’s only gotten worse with age and the onset of fibromyalgia. Now, I can add chronic pain, sweating, muscle twitches, muscle cramps, and hands that go numb to the night-time woes. Happy, happy, joy, joy (to quote Ren and Stimpy ).
A few years ago, I participated in a sleep study at the request of my doctor. I was diagnosed with insomnia (surprise, surprise) caused by my environment (anything in my environment can disrupt my sleep because I’m a light sleeper) and more recently, fibromyalgia.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia, which is Latin for “no sleep,” is the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep. Insomnia is also used to describe the condition of waking up not feeling restored or refreshed. According to Dr. Mark Mahowald, Professor of Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center, insomnia refers to the inability to get the amount of sleep you as an individual need to wake up feeling rested.
Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint among Americans. It can be either acute, lasting one to several nights, or chronic, even lasting months to years. When insomnia persists for longer than a month, it is considered chronic. According to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, about 30-40% of adults say they have some symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and about 10-15 percent of adults say they have chronic insomnia. People who have trouble sleeping every night without exception for months or years are fairly rare. More often, people experience chronic-intermittent insomnia, which means difficulty sleeping for a few nights, followed by a few nights of adequate sleep before the problem returns.
Sleep and Fibromyalgia
Most people with fibromyalgia complain of trouble sleeping. Sleep problems with fibromyalgia include insomnia or difficulty falling asleep as well as frequent awakening in which you become awake enough to remember them the next day. An even more common problem is awakenings that you don’t remember but that definitely interrupt your “deep” sleep. Also, other sleep disorders — such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea — may be associated with fibromyalgia.
People with fibromyalgia talk about waking up day after day feeling exhausted with no energy. Usually, they feel more tired in the morning, and many go back to sleep during the day to ease their fatigue. Also, it’s common for people with fibromyalgia to have great difficulty concentrating during the day, a condition called “fibro fog.” Pain or other symptoms of fibromyalgia such as depression and anxiety also contribute to sleep problems.
When asleep, healthy people pass through a cycle of progressively deeper stages of sleep, represented by fast alpha brain waves during the initial stages (indicating a half-awake state), and slow delta waves which are hallmarks of the later stages of deep sleep. But many fibromyalgia sufferers either don’t reach deep sleep, or they don’t stay there for long. Instead, alpha waves return, indicating to scientists that perhaps part of the brain is improperly active at that time. This phenomenon is known as alpha-delta sleep.
Because proper sleep can help minimize or reduce your fibromyalgia symptoms and thus improve your quality of life, it is essential to improve the quality of your sleep.
12 Sleep Tips for Fibromyalgia Sufferers
Establishing better sleep hygiene can help manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Improving your sleep may help decrease your pain, fatigue, and “fibro fog.” Try the following strategies and see if they help your sleep.
Sleep only as much as needed to feel refreshed and healthy the following day, not more. Curtailing the time in bed seems to solidify sleep. Excessively long times in bed seem related to fragmented and shallow sleep.
Keep a sleep diary. Write down how you slept each night and triggers that may have interfered with your sleep. Reviewing your notes over several weeks may give you insight into your sleep problems.
Have a regular time to wake up each morning. A regular arousal time helps strengthen circadian cycling and leads to regular times of sleep onset.
Use relaxation therapies. A gentle massage, deep breathing, an Epsom salt bath, gentle yoga, and other relaxation techniques are all potentially beneficial to managing fibromyalgia and boosting restful sleep.
Exercise regularly (but avoid exercising three hours before bedtime). Exercise may exert its beneficial effect by promoting better-quality sleep.
Sound-attenuated bedrooms may help those who must sleep close to noise. Occasional loud noises — for example, aircraft flyovers — disturb sleep even in people who are not awakened and cannot remember them in the morning.
Avoid long daytime naps. Extensive napping can interfere with nighttime sleep.
Keep the temperature in your room cool. An excessively warm room disturbs sleep.
Hunger may disturb sleep; a light snack of carbohydrates may help sleep.
Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evening. They both disturb sleep.
Reserve your bed for sleeping only. Avoid reading in bed, watching TV or doing work on a laptop – these activities will only aggravate your insomnia. You might also consider taking your television and computer out of your bedroom. This will help you associate your bedroom exclusively with sleeping.
Don’t underestimate the benefits that a new mattress and pillow can offer. These items can improve your overall comfort and provide you with the proper support and therefore reduce insomnia. In addition, they can relieve some of your fibromyalgia symptoms, such as fibromyalgia pain. Is the mattress comfortable or does it hurt to lay on it? Does your pillow support your head and neck well or do you wake up with spasms and headaches? Are your sheets soft or scratchy? Also, if you’re bothered by sheet wrinkles, look for sheet straps to keep them in place better. They’re available at many bedding and houseware stores, as well as online retailers.
You may want to talk to your doctor about specific pain treatments for nighttime. A medication that makes you too tired to function during the day may be just what you need to sleep better.
Do you have trouble sleeping? What helps you sleep better? Do you have a nightly sleep routine?