The Sleep Connection

Because dysfunctional sleep is a common symptom of fibromyalgia, those who have the syndrome should learn all they can about how to improve their quality of sleep.

Sleep stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movement, or the deepest level of sleep) should follow in that order. The first stage begins with fast-moving alpha waves, the ones we experience while awake. This sleep stage can be described as “dozing” or being “half asleep.” We gradually progress through the other stages until the slow delta waves are reached – indicating the deepest level of sleep possible. If a person is able to experience each stage in the correct order during a night of sleep, and spend enough time in the delta sleep level, she will awaken refreshed and ready for the day. Researchers believe, however, that most fibromyalgics either don’t typically reach the delta level or don’t stay there for very long.

Instead, they experience a mixture of sleep patterns, termed alpha-delta sleep. For them, sleep is not restorative, and they can awaken after a long night feeling as if they hadn’t slept at all.

It is believed that a deficiency in serotonin levels may be at least partly responsible for non-refreshing alpha-delta sleep. Either the person’s body doesn’t make enough serotonin, a neurotransmitter derived from the amino acid tryptophan, or the body reabsorbs it before it can do its job. Medical Doctors will often prescribe SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) in an effort to help these patients hold on to their serotonin and experience a better night’s sleep. Before you go this route you should research SSRIs and their side effects and look into more natural ways to increase serotonin levels.

Thankfully, a good night’s sleep isn’t a lost cause for those with fibromyalgia. If you find yourself being sleep-challenged, whether it’s because of insomnia, waking up during the night, or just poor sleep quality, consider the following tips to help restore those deep z’s:

Reduce stimuli before bedtime. It’s helpful to create a “quiet time” that’s all your own, and make it a routine you follow regularly. For example, start with washing your face and brushing your teeth, getting into your pajamas, making a cup of herbal tea, then hopping into bed to read (but make sure it’s not a page-turner murder mystery!). You’ll find yourself looking forward to your nightly routine, and your body will “learn” that it’s time to go to sleep.

Avoid those things that will keep the wheels in your mind turning well into the middle of the night. This includes medications that make you jittery, whether they are prescribed meds or over-the-counter nasal decongestants, and sugary and/or caffeine-laden drinks. Don’t watch disturbing TV shows or movies before bedtime, and try to avoid stressful arguments.

Get some exercise every day, preferably aerobic (walking counts). Don’t exercise within four hours of going to bed, however: the adrenaline stimulated by physical activity will still be in your bloodstream and may interfere with sleep.

Wind down physically. Do some gentle stretches, some deep breathing, and focus on relaxing your muscles in order—starting with your head or feet and working in the opposite direction.

Finally, make sure your mattress and pillow are giving you the support you need. Sleeping on a wimpy pillow and a lumpy mattress will make anyone wake up feeling groggy and in pain.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: