As anyone diagnosed with it knows, fibromyalgia is not only hard to live with much of the time, it’s hard for others to understand as well. Those who are not familiar with the condition or its many complications often just don’t understand why you are often so tired, or why sometimes the simplest things leave you feeling drained and sore. Or even why sleeping at night is often so hard.
Sleep is one of the aspects of living with fibromyalgia that causes so many problems for so many. Getting to sleep at all can be hard, and staying that way is often even harder. Waking without feeling like you are in more pain than you went to sleep in is something that is a reality for many sufferers as well.
Add all this to the fact that daytime fatigue is already often a complication of fibromyalgia in general and nighttime – and the following mornings – can become something you dread. While there is no silver bullet that will guarantee a pain free night of uninterrupted sleep and a bright pain free morning for you, there are some products, sleep aids, ‘tricks’ and ‘hacks’ that, when used together as seem appropriate for you can make a real positive difference. And it’s some of those we are going to be discussing here.
What is Fibromyalgia and Who is at Risk?
Years ago, when some, even some medical experts, questioned whether fibromyalgia was even real, it was labelled a condition that affected middle-aged women. As time has passed, the effort has been made to better understand the condition and diagnoses have been more easily made the face of that demographic has changed.
According to the National Fibromyalgia Foundation, the following is now true
“Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions. The disorder affects an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. and an estimated 3-6% of the world population. While it is most prevalent in women —75-90 percent of the people who have FM are women —it also occurs in men and children of all ethnic groups.
The disorder is often seen in families, among siblings or mothers and their children. The diagnosis is usually made between the ages of 20 to 50 years”
There are other risk factors that are believed to play a part including suffering from PTSD or having been a victim of abuse, either physical or verbal, in the past. For the most part however fibromyalgia is a somewhat mysterious condition that researchers and medical professionals are still struggling to understand, but the fact is it can affect all kinds of people, although women (of all ages) are statically more likely to be sufferers.
Fibromyalgia and Sleep
According to the National Fibromyalgia Research Association more than 75% of the patients living with fibromyalgia report that trouble sleeping is a moderate to severe complication in their lives. Many also report that even when they do manage to get what seems to be a decent night’s sleep they wake up in pain, which sets a bad tone for the day. So, if this is the case for you, you are not alone.
Much about the connections between sleep and fibromyalgia is still far from understood even by medical professionals.
However, much of what is known relates to the disturbance of regular sleep cycles.
Understand Sleep Cycles
Although we really don’t know we are doing so, we go through a number of stages of sleep every night, cycling through each one every 90 minutes or so. And each stage of sleep serves a restorative purpose.
Non-REM sleep stages, when you won’t dream and are very deeply asleep, are the stages of sleep when the body does its most important ‘work’; releasing hormones that repair and replenish body tissues, including the replenishment of brain cells.
And REM sleep, experts say, may be even more important for good brain function and emotional wellness.
This video offers short, but very clear explanation of the stages of sleep from the sleep experts at the Mayo Clinic:
This is where medical experts believe is where fibromyalgia patients often miss out. They never make it to those deeper levels of sleep, or at least do so less regularly than is ideal, and so their bodies don’t refresh in the way they should, often resulting in more pain and in the ‘memory fog’ that many complain of as well. They lack REM sleep too, so they don’t get to sharpen their mental and emotional clarity in the way those who get good sleep do.
Aside from the more obvious reasons that their sleep is interrupted – general pain, the RLS (restless leg syndrome) that often affects fibromyalgia sufferers – researchers believe a change in the chemicals in the brain may be responsible in part too. That connection is one that is still being explored, but it takes fibromyalgia out of the range of emotional disorders and puts it more squarely in a category with other physical chronic pain disorders.
10 Sleep Hacks To Get a Better Night’s Sleep with Fibromyalgia
Much of the time in lots of things in life if you don’t have the right equipment you won’t be able to get the best results, and this can be true of getting restorative sleep as a fibromyalgia patient. A bad mattress, the wrong bedding and other similar ‘equipment’ problems can make a real difference.
There are also some nighttime extras you can purchase that for some make having a great mattress and other bedding essentials even more effective in terms of getting a great night’s sleep. And while none of these things can guarantee to grant you better sleep every single night many sufferers find they make a very noticeable positive difference.
1. Sleep on the right mattress
There are a lot of choices out there right now when it comes to buying a new mattress. And we know those choices can be dizzying. There is a huge range of mattress bedding materials and even ‘technologies’ to choose from, lots of different retailers, both on and offline, different firmness levels to choose from within the same product range and certainly a pretty wide range of prices across the board.
While it’s not possible to recommend the perfect mattress for everyone, because everyone’s needs, and sleep styles, are different, it is possible to make some general ones to get you started the right way.
The most important things to look for in a great mattress that will help improve the sleep you get as a fibromyalgia sufferer is one that offers good support – but is not like sleeping on a board – can provide pressure point relief for your shoulders, spine and hips and is not one that is likely to ‘sleep hot’, as being woken by the fact that you are covered in sweat is never helpful or conducive to a good night’s sleep.
For many this often means that a memory foam bed can be a great answer, but only as long as it is one that features a ‘cooling layer’ – usually crafted from gel memory foam – as standard memory foam tends to sleep hot. Latex can be another excellent choice as it offers good support and great natural cooling. The new generation of hybrid mattresses – those that combine innerspring with memory foam – are well worth considering as well.
In terms of firmness many fibromyalgia patients find that a medium firm is a great fit for them, but the only way for you to tell for sure that’s right for you is by sleeping on a mattress, so looking for an option that offers an X (usually 100-120) nights trial is a very good idea as well.
2. Use a mattress topper
Mattress toppers are a great way to add extra comfort to an existing mattress that is not quite ready to be replaced yet, or to further personalize the sleeping comfort of a new one. These are also available in a range of materials and firmness ratings but for pain relief don’t opt for one that is too soft – however comfy it might look – as it is unlikely that it will provide the level of support you need for your often aching joints and may leave you waking up in more pain than you went to sleep in!
3. Use the right pillows
In shopping for the right mattress people with chronic pain often forget that the pillow they sleep on is very important too.
Take the time to shop for a good quality pillow that offers support for your neck and shoulders no matter what your sleeping style, and don’t be afraid to pay a little more for a higher quality pillow as they will usually last longer and provide better support.
Again, memory foam is often a great choice, as long as it contains that all important cooling layer!
Another thing to keep in mind however is that no pillow, however great when you buy it, lasts for anywhere near as long as a mattress, and should be replaced every 12-18 months.
4. Use a heated blanket
Heat is often used to relieve pain, so for those who go to bed achy making use of a heated blanket may provide some much-needed pain relief. This does tend to be a very individualized thing though, as they make some people feel too hot and bothered to sleep, negating any possible pain relief they might offer.
One way some people with fibromyalgia make the best use of them is to only put them on the bed when they have had a very bad day pain wise and to choose a heated blanket option that will shut off after a preset amount of time, so they do not end up overheated.
5. Use a weighted blanket
Weighted blankets have been used by some therapists for many years to help their patients suffering from anxiety get better sleep, but it is only relatively recently that they have received mainstream attention.
Although termed blankets in the US these are not the woolen blankets you might expect, they are more like the European duvet, except they contain a series of small weights.
Research and anecdotal evidence from those who make use of these bedding options successfully say they help them feel more safe and secure when sleeping and some even report that they help relieve pressure points when placed in the right way.
This video diary offers an interesting look at one user’s experience with a weighted blanket to help her sleep better.
6. Get better bedding
Bedding – sheets and pillowcases – can make a difference to your quality of sleep too. Materials that are rough or itchy, or that sleep hot, can quickly undo a lot of the good that choosing the right mattress and pillow does.
One of the oldest bedding options remains one of the best. Cotton, especially organic cotton sheets, are naturally cool and hypoallergenic and are also very durable and easy to take care of as well. Try to go for a 100% cotton option rather than a blend as that will provide the best cooling and comfort possible.
In choosing the right bedding you should also make sure that it does not fit too tightly, especially if you, like many fibromyalgia sufferers, also deal with Restless Leg Syndrome, as getting tangled up in the sheets is almost certain to disturb your sleep!
7. Sleep medications
Some people find that taking a sleep medication offers them a better night’s sleep, and if that is the case for you, in many ways that’s great. but they should be used with extreme caution.
Not only do many medicated sleep aids come along with a high addiction risk – even OTC sleep medications, they are usually at least habit forming and getting to sleep without them once you begin taking them may be hard. Many people also report waking up feeling groggy after taking a sleep medication, and as ‘brain fog’ is already a common fibromyalgia complication that is an additional potential problem associated with their use.
In addition, there is a risk some sleep medications may react with other medications you may be taking for fibromyalgia, so it is advisable that you talk to your doctor before trying any at all, even those you can buy for just a few dollars at the drug store.
8. Use herbal therapies
There are a growing number of natural remedies and supplements being publicized and talked about that it is claimed may result in better sleep. The one with the most medical and scientific research to back it up is a melatonin supplement, as melatonin is known to be essential to sleep.
You should note however that melatonin supplements are not FDA approved and vary in potency and quality, so if you are considering trying them to get a better night’s sleep take the time to do some research and shop carefully.
You might also want to discuss taking supplements with your doctor as even natural remedies can interact badly with some prescription medications.
9. CBD as a sleep aid
It’s very likely that you have at least heard of CBD, as it has been in the news almost constantly recently and various CBD supplements and CBD ‘infused’ gummies, cookies and even soaps and lotions are popping up everywhere.
Many fibromyalgia patients are giving CBD a go. CBD is a type of cannabis, but it lacks the THC component that causes the euphoric high produced by marijuana. It has also recently become legal for those over the age of 18 to purchase almost everywhere in the US, UK and Canada, something that marijuana is not.
Not sure what CBD really is?
This video explains the chemistry involved in its make up very well:
As is mentioned at length in the video, CBD research, although in its relative infancy (because it simply was not legal for researchers to conduct it in the past) is reporting some very positive results in terms of using it to relieve chronic pain, stem anxiety and decrease the ‘fight or flight’ reactions that many fibromyalgia patients experience that impact their sleep.
While legal, The FDA has, so far, only approved CBD to treat epilepsy, but using it to combat pain, depression and anxiety is becoming more common and very few, if any, side effects are reported of its use. So giving it a try to see if CBD can help with your fibromyalgia related sleep problems – and/or with managing the condition in general – is something worth giving careful consideration.
10. Get on a regular schedule
Sometimes things that seem very simple can make a big difference. Adopting a better nighttime routine is one of them, and it applies to everyone who is hoping for a good night’s sleep, not just those who suffer from fibromyalgia.
What kind of routine?
One similar, in many ways to the one that you might have had as a kid.
All of the following is good advice to create such a routine:
- Exercise is good for those with fibromyalgia, but not too close to bedtime. Try not to exercise three hours before bedtime, as any later and your body temperature and heart rate may still be too elevated for you to get to sleep.
- You should not eat too late either, again, try to make sure that you eat dinner at least three or four hours before bedtime. And try to avoid fatty foods, especially those that are fried, as they are hard to digest and likely to keep you awake. Spicy foods, which can cause all kinds of digestive upset, may be something you want to avoid as well.
- Banish electronics from your bedroom and keep your smartphone away from your bed. Televisions, computers, game consoles and the like are not only distracting but the blue light they emit is, some research shows, often a headache and eyestrain trigger.
- If you are used to making use of your smartphone – which is often even more distracting – as an alarm clock invest in an old fashioned alarm clock instead and keep your phone in a drawer where it won’t tempt you to look at it if you do happen to wake up.
- Keep your room’s temperature at around 67-69F, which is, sleep experts say, an optimal temperature for sleep. Choose loose fitting (preferably cotton) nightclothes to sleep in, fan for cooling off your bedroom and try to keep the room as dark as possible.
We hope this guide to sleeping with fibromyalgia has offered you some useful advice and starting points on your road to getting better sleep on a regular basis and reaping all the benefits that good sleep can offer, even to those with a difficult chronic pain condition.