Getting Quality Sleep despite Fibromyalgia Pain

InsomniaPatients living with fibromyalgia pain often find themselves struggling with insomnia and other sleep difficulties.  As much as 75 percent of fibromyalgia patients report sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue, this according to research conducted by the National Fibromyalgia Research Association.[1]  Daytime grogginess and sleep deprivation are a result of problems falling sleep and actually staying asleep. The inability to have a normal sleep pattern prevents fibromyalgia patients from getting restorative, restful and good quality sleep.

For most of us living with fibromyalgia pain, sleep is the only time we get a break from our pain.  Unfortunately, good quality sleep can be hard to acquire when pain keeps us up at night. It becomes a vicious cycle because being overtired results in making pain worse.  Even when you able to fall asleep at night, fibromyalgia pain can also wake you up during the night or even cause you to wake up tired.  The good news is that there are ways that you can still get good quality sleep despite fibromyalgia pain.  This involves medical treatment for both your fibromyalgia and sleep issues and also specific strategies you can try to help with both issues.

Here are some tips to help you if you are tossing and turning at bedtime and throughout the night.

Practice good sleep habits. Having good sleep habits can help to minimize sleep issues. Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning makes a big difference. It is also helpful to keep your sleep area free from distractions.  Avoid over-arousal at least three hours before bedtime. This includes things like exercise, a heavy meal, an argument or an action packed movie. Last, create a bedtime ritual that helps to induce sleep such as taking a warm bath, listening to calming music or reading for a short time.

Cut the caffeine and alcohol: It is especially important to avoid caffeine and alcohol from late afternoon on. Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants and if consumed too close to bedtime can keep you from falling asleep and getting sleep that is restful.

Get your pain under control and check your medications. When pain is controlled, you have a better chance of getting better quality sleep. Talk to your doctor if your pain isn’t well managed to find alternative options treat and manage fibromyalgia pain. Different medications and unconventional therapies including massage, acupuncture and relaxation techniques can provide relief for pain and stress.  Further, it is possible that the side effect of one or more of your medications is sleeplessness.  If you suspect this to be the case, talk to your doctor about different treatment options that can assist with pain management without keeping you up at night.

Exercise daily.  If you exercise at least four to eight hours before bedtime, you will find that your sleep improves at night. This is because physical activity helps to relieve stress which is another thing that can keep you up at night.  Further, fibromyalgia pain can be lessened through exercise. Just remember that you should not exercise two to three hours before bedtime because exercising too late can actually keep you up.

Try a sleep aid or a natural supplement: If falling asleep or getting good quality sleep has become a constant struggle for you, talk to your doctor about prescribing a sleep medication.  Sleep medications work by slowing activity in the brain so that you can fall asleep much more easily.  Sometimes, doctors will prescribe anti-depressants to help with sleep issues.  Please remember that prescription sleep aids can only be used in the short-term and for no more than a few weeks at a time.  If you are unable to take a prescription sleep aid or prefer not to use one, a dietary supplement, such as Melatonin or Valerian Root, maybe a better option.  Melatonin is a synthetic version of the natural sleep hormone that is produced in the pineal gland (a small endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain). Valerian Root is an herbal product made from the roots of the valerian plant.  Found as a tea or supplement, it can be used to treat sleep problems, including insomnia.

It is vital for fibromyalgia patients to get plenty of sleep and rest because fibromyalgia pain and sleep are intrinsically connected.  Getting better quality sleep can help fibromyalgia patients to restore their energy levels, improve mood, lessen fatigue and minimize pain.


[1] Arbuck, D., M.D. (2012, March 20.) “The Vicious Cycle of Sleep Disturbance and Fibromyalgia Pain.” HCP Live: Retrieved from http://www.hcplive.com/publications/pain-management/2012/march-2012/The-Vicious-Cycle-of-Sleep-Disturbance-and-Fibromyalgia-Pain

Feeling Shortchanged by Chronic Illness

Photo Credit: http://ashleycusack.com/
Photo Credit: http://ashleycusack.com/

It is not unusual for individuals living with chronic illness to feel shortchanged by their diseases.  When we find ourselves unable to do the things we were once able to do – such as working long hours or doing the same work, travelling, eating what we want, being physically active, and being there for loved ones – we feel deprived.  Feeling shortchanged doesn’t allow patients the opportunity to see past their limitations or to feel like they have any control over their lives.

Why and How We Feel Shortchanged

Chronically ill patients can feel shortchanged because of limitations imposed by their diseases.  We try to convince ourselves that our limitations are not significant or we discredit our feelings by telling ourselves that others have much worse limitations than we do. By not being honest with ourselves, we are not acknowledging why we are feeling shortchanged.

Limitations and unwelcome change can bring about feelings of sadness for chronically ill persons.  Additionally, many feel alone and that no one understands what they are going through. We also feel a loss of personal control because our illnesses seem to be getting the best of us.  We envy those who are healthy and we wish we were.  Further, because society dictates the notion of progress, we work harder, endure more and push on despite how we feel and sadly, it is a constant battle.

Feeling anger is also common emotion when we feel short-changed. We are angry at our diseases and at our bodies for rebelling against us.  We are angry at people who do not understand our ordeal and at our doctors for not being able to get us symptom-free. We are devastated by all the losses that chronic illness has brought into our lives such as financial loss, the loss of friends and family, or the loss of function.  Illness has a way of destroying a person’s dreams and limits having a normal life.

Living with Chronic Illness

Living with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, I am not as active as I used to be. I am also not as attentive to my children’s school activities or playing with them and even to the needs of my mother who is disabled following a stroke.  Most weekends, I am worn out from just cleaning my home. Not being to take on the things that I was able to do before chronic illness makes me feel depressed.  RA and fibromyalgia have limited me and sometimes, I feel at a disadvantage due my illnesses.

Being sick has changed my aspirations, my expectations and my emotions.  I am not the same person I was prior to my diagnoses but I know cannot turn back time and be that person again.  While I wish I could, I think it is far more important to not dwell on what has been lost and to enjoy the present. I don’t know what direction my health will go and I don’t know where it will be in five or ten years.  I just know that the future is not as important as today.  And that is not a bad thing – I am just being realistic.

I have learned that in order not to feel shortchanged, I must accept that I am chronically ill. In doing so, I am better able to manage my disease through treatment, minimizing stress, and prioritizing my responsibilities.  I also realize that while I am not able to do the things I once was able to do, I can still have hobbies, responsibilities and dreams.  With this belief in mind, I am hopeful for a better quality of life.

What You Can Do

Feeling short-changed by chronic illness is a natural reaction.  A good solution is to acknowledge that you are feeling short-changed. It is also equally important to find effective ways to cope with these feelings.  You can lessen feeling deprived and learn to cope by replacing the things you are no longer able to do with things that you can do.  For example, if you can no longer play your favorite sport, consider coaching your child’s sports team or if you can no longer knit or do needlepoint work, take up gardening.  New opportunities are always available and finding them involves letting go of the things chronic illness has taken from us.

When we offer ourselves other opportunities, feeling short-changed doesn’t seem so overwhelming.  The whirlwind of these emotions will come to an impasse.  When we learn to be more realistic about expectations, we realize that what we can do and how we react is far more important than what we cannot do or what we have no control over. We learn to cope and we feel less deprived when we arm ourselves with the tools necessary to live successfully with and despite chronic illness.

Still Feeling Short-Changed?

If you are still feeling short-changed, I suggest being open and honest with yourself about why you are feeling this way.  Ask yourself why it is you are feeling deprived and work through those feelings.  Once you have acknowledged why you are feeling short-changed, do some soul searching to find new ways in which you can make your life more enjoyable and much fuller.