Fibromyalgia Can Hinder Sleep Pattern

Category: Fibromyalgia (FMS) Published on Wednesday, 25 June 2008 Written by Yong Tsai, MD

Like a pendulum, our body’s sleep-wake design consists of two continual forces: arousal, and sleep. And even though everyone requires sleep, not all sleep patterns are alike.

Typically, our arousal force is stronger, but weakens after 16 awake hours or with lack of stimulation. A quiet room, closed eyes, and a cozy blanket decrease mental stimuli and increase sleep force, while stress and pain provoke our arousal force, leaving us unable to sleep soundly or even at all.

Our brain produces several types of electroencephalographic (EEG) waves. When we are awake (beta waves) or at rest (alpha waves) these waves are small, fast and random. However, during REM sleep the waves are longer (theta waves), and the longest during non-REM sleep (delta waves).

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is a sleep stage in which we are able to dream and our eyes move rapidly, while the NREM (Non REM) stage allows our body to “recharge” during its phases of deep sleep. The last phase of NREM-delta waves is the deepest “restorative sleep” because of its ability to allow our body to revitalize.

Unfortunately, many patients who suffer with fibromyalgia, even when they do sleep, receive little benefit from sleeping as their NREM sleep is interrupted with “alpha” waves. This type of “non-restorative sleep” or “alpha-delta sleep” occurs throughout the night when alpha and delta brain waves somehow mix, like being asleep with one eye opened. Even after a good night’s sleep, people who have non-restorative sleep still wake up tired, stiff, not refreshed, achy, and generally in more pain.

Although research continues, we do know that suffering from chronic pain can interrupt sleep, thus causing the production of alpha-delta waves, and that healthy people under stress can also develop alpha-delta waves, which in turn can provoke insomnia. And even though this can be a vicious cycle, the “sleep provoking pain and pain interrupting sleep” pattern can be restored.

Studies have shown that low doses of the anti-depressant Elavil can break the cycle by suppressing alpha wave intrusion and by restoring the balance between sleep and arousal.

In addition, because insomnia is associated with a sedentary lifestyle, regular exercise such as swimming, low-impact aerobics, cycling, dancing or walking, especially in the afternoon and early evening, are great ways to create a stimulus distinction between the wake & sleep stages, all while improving general fitness. Tips for a healthier sleep pattern are: unwind before bed, only go to bed when you feel sleepy, don’t linger in bed, never force yourself to sleep, limit naps to 10minutes, avoid caffeine, limit alcohol, quit smoking and foremost keep regular work, play and sleep schedules.

We are creatures of habit, and because of this, our body works best on a regular rhythm.

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