The Fibromyalgia-Sleep Connection

The link between fibromyalgia (FM) and sleep is well-established. Some experts feel FM is caused by a lack of deep sleep, which usually takes about four hours of continuous sleep to achieve. Over time, the inability to fully relax due to the lack of deep sleep results in a gradual tightening of the muscles, which further prohibits deep sleep. FM symptoms include a widespread, generalized muscle aching, chronic fatigue, lack of drive, depression, irritability, gut or bowel problems, tingling or numbness, and more. It is a condition most common among woman between 40 and 60 years of age and is the third-most common rheumatologic disorder.

Because these symptoms are usually chronic (present for at least three months), depression is a common complaint. This is due, in part, to the inability to get enough deep sleep that, in turn, results in less patience, less tolerance, and a decreased ability to cope with everyday stresses. This can lead to inactivity, weight gain, poor dietary habits, and sometimes, substance abuse. Unfortunately, all of this self-perpetuates the condition and frequently, anti-depressant medication and/or herbal approaches are helpful in breaking this cycle. Sleep aids can also be helpful since this may be at the core of the condition.

Chiropractic care addresses spinal dysfunction, faulty posture, and lifestyle issues such as stress, diet, and exercise when managing the complex issues associated with fibromyalgia. Co-management with other healthcare partners, such as counseling with a clinical psychologist, may also be beneficial. If FM is secondary to a disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome, dietary management is an important treatment aspect.

Most patients with FM will benefit from increasing their activity level, gradually working towards a rigorous exercise program. Vigorous exercise increases endorphin levels, which block pain and elevate mood. The exercise approach should include both strength enhancement, such as circuit training with weights, and increasing aerobic activities, such as fast-paced walking. These have been shown in studies to help patients with stress reduction as well as reducing the chronic fatigue associated with FM. Overall, pain levels are reduced by the addition of exercise though this may seem hard to believe since people with FM already have muscle pain. Exercise is also important in maintaining a healthy weight and improving self-confidence. If post-exercise soreness occurs after exercising, chiropractic approaches can be very beneficial.

If the side effects of medication outweigh the benefits, or if you’re looking for a non-drug treatment approach to FM, the combination of nutrition, exercise, and chiropractic care should strongly be considered.