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Sleep Better With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Overcoming Barriers to Sleep

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Updated June 19, 2014

You CAN Sleep Better With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

How'd you sleep last night? Did you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start your day? Are these the worst questions to ever ask of someone with fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS)? While sleep is especially challenging to us, it is possible to sleep better with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Actually, a lot of people with ME/CFS will tell you they sleep pretty well -- maybe 8 to 10 hours a night, plus a couple of naps during the day. Many of us with FMS, on the other hand, feel luck to get 5 hours of moderate-quality sleep a night. Waking up refreshed might be something you remember doing way back when, before FMS or ME/CFS moved in and left you exhausted.

FMS and ME/CFS have a lot in common, including fatigue and unrefreshing sleep. FMS, however, is associated with numerous sleep disorders (I have at least 4), while ME/CFS isn't associated with any clearly diagnosable ones. Medically, it's a mystery as to why people with ME/CFS don't feel rested after sleeping. (This isn't to say sleep is normal in ME/CFS -- many researchers believe it's linked to disturbed/chaotic sleep rhythms. ME/CFS, however, is not linked to common, diagnosable sleep disorders.)

No matter what your health problems, you may benefit from better sleep. It's not easy to do all of the things that can help you sleep better, but the health improvements can be a big reward.

Sleeping Better With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

You've probably heard of sleep hygiene (getting up at the same time every day, avoiding caffeine before bed), and while it's important, it's not the only key. You may have some other things to sort out as well, including:

  • Ruling out sleep-related side effects of treatments
  • Diagnosing & treating sleep disorders
  • Managing pain so it's less disruptive to sleep
  • Changing your attitude toward sleep

I tried improving my sleep hygiene before addressing those issues and kept being defeated. Now, my efforts are being rewarded with better sleep and less severe FMS symptoms.

Sleep-Related Side Effects

A fairly easy step is looking over the side effects lists for the medications and supplements you take regularly to see if they could be contributing to your sleep problems. Insomnia, for example, is a possible side effect of several common treatments, including Lyrica (pregabalin) and CoQ10.

You can find out about side effects of drugs (and many supplements) at About.com's Drugs A-Z drug database, on drug manufacturers' websites, in drugs' packaging materials, or at your pharmacy.

If you find your treatments are causing sleep problems, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about it. Sleep disorders that are common in FMS include:

Some studies also suggest that people with FMS have abnormal brain activity during certain stages of sleep, which could help account for poor quality sleep.

To determine whether you have a sleep disorder, your doctor may want you to have a sleep study.

Treating sleep disorders properly isn't always easy. For example, I use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, and it definitely took a while to get used to sleeping with it. If one treatment doesn't work well for you, you may need to experiment for awhile to find something that does (under your doctor's recommendation, of course).

Managing Pain for Better Sleep

FMS pain is notoriously hard to treat. As you work to find ways to treat/manage your pain, consider your bed. 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?

Sometimes, finding the right bed, pillow and sheets can really make a difference. 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.

Also, simple things like an Epsom salt bath or gentle yoga may help ease your pain and relax you before bed.

Changing Your Attitudes About Sleep

When you think about going to bed, do you feel all warm and cozy or does it stress you out? I've been an insomniac for as long as I can remember (and longer, according to my mother), and I know that it lead to negative associations for me. I used to dread going to bed because I knew it would mean laying there for hours, growing more and more uncomfortable and worrying about how tired I was going to be in the morning.

It's important to think about your attitudes toward sleep so you can identify whether you have negative associations like mine. You may be able to get past those attitudes on your own, or you may have better luck with professional help, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Sleep Hygiene

Once you've addressed these issues, you'll likely have better luck with sleep hygiene improvements.

What is good sleep hygiene? Read Sleep Hygiene for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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