The Sleep-Pain Connection

Many fibromyalgia sufferers experience sleep disturbances and insomnia, but never make the connection between lack of sleep and fibromyalgia pain. Even thirty years ago, some researchers concluded that fibromyalgia symptoms may be due to chronic lack of restful sleep. But the scientists weren't able to demonstrate how disturbed sleep might exacerbate fibromyalgia pain. Today, the researchers are taking a second look at the connection between sleep and pain, and their discoveries may help you find the key to reducing the main symptom of fibromyalgia: pain.

A German researcher, Bernd Kundermann, Ph.D. spoke about the sleep-pain connection for an article on the topic. After examining the findings of his own research and that of others, he commented, "The pain-relieving action of the body's natural opioid system relies upon undisturbed sleep…this points to a detrimental effect of sleep disruption on the ability of the opioid system to provide pain relief."

Kundermann feels that by resolving disturbed sleep, the body's natural pain relievers can be freed to resolve the pain accompanying fibromyalgia syndrome.

Induced Sleep Loss

It can be difficult to spot the effects of sleep disturbances. To illustrate the insidious nature of sleep deprivation, Martha Lentz, Ph.D., R.N. of Seattle, WA, chose several middle-aged women in good health and subjected them to an induced loss of deep sleep, also known as slow wave sleep (SWS). While the subjected were permitted to sleep the night through, as they entered the SWS stage, they were roused with the help of a buzzer set at a high volume. The process caused the participants to enter a lighter stage of sleep without actually awakening them.

Sleep efficiency is measured according to the percentage of time spent asleep. The sleep efficiency of the women in this study appeared to remain the same, but the quality of their sleep underwent a drastic change. After three nights of having their deep sleep interrupted, the women began to experience muscle aches. The pain threshold of the women appeared to have been lowered, too. This was demonstrated by increased tenderness experienced in response to applied pressure.

Another scientist, S. Hakki Onen, M.D., Ph.D., applied Lentz's methods to his own healthy research subjects and then allowed them to have one night of recovery in which the subjects were allowed undisturbed sleep. Onen discovered that a higher than average amount of sleep time was devoted to SWS during the recovery night. He also discovered that the threshold for pressure pain made a vast increase after only one night of good sound sleep. The scientist found that an increase in time spent in SWS gave greater pain relief than the subjects would have received from a high dose of ibuprofen.

Sleep-Enhancing Medications

The conclusion of this study leads to the theory that fibromyalgia patients may be able to alleviate their pain by increasing the amount of time they spend in slow wave sleep. There are some medications available than can enhance your sleep. Talk to your doctor if you suspect your pain may stem from sleep disturbances.

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