Photo of a sleeping woman
Loss of sleep can more than double a woman's risk of fibromyalgia [Image: Naty Sweet - Wikimedia Commons]

Lack of sleep increases fibromyalgia risk in women

22 November, 2011

Natural Health News — Women who have trouble getting a good night’s sleep have a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia – and the risk gets greater according to the severity of the sleep disturbance, according to a new study.

Sleep disturbances and excessive fatigue are common symptoms of fibromyalgia – a poorly understood syndrome of persistent widespread pain that primarily afflicts women.

However, it has not been clear whether the poor sleep leads to fibromyalgia or whether the chronic pain results in disordered sleep. So scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim decided to see if they could find out.

The 10-year study followed 12,350 women who did not have chronic musculoskeletal pain at the beginning of the study. It found that those who reported even moderate frequency of sleep-disturbed nights were about 3.5 times more likely to end up with fibromyalgia compared to those who slept well. Even those who only occasionally had difficulties sleeping had a double the risk.

This higher risk amongst sleepless women persisted even after the researchers took account of smoking, education, physical exercise and body mass index. The study also showed that women 45 and older who had frequent sleep difficulties had a higher rate of fibromyalgia than younger women.

Assuming the findings of this study, published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism are correct then, the researcher hypothesis, that in women, 65% of cases of fibromyalgia are caused by sleep problems.

Just how disordered sleep can lead to chronic pain is unclear, but sleep deprivation also has been linked with increased levels of circulating inflammatory substances and a decline in the level of natural pain relieving substances released by the body in response to pain.

Experiments on healthy volunteers have suggested that interference in stage 4 sleep – a deep regenerative sleep where delta brain waves predominate – can result in significantly increased sensitivity to pain (known as hyperalgesia).

There are five phases of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movement). Usually we begin at stage 1 and cycle through each stage until reaching REM sleep, and then you begin the cycle again. Each complete sleep cycle takes from 90 to 110 minutes and we have several complete cycles per night. Your brain acts differently in each stage of sleep and completing these cycles is important for continued good health.

Recent research has linked poor sleep to increased blood pressure, decreased productivity at work, and overeating and obesity.