Fixing fibromyalgia pain: Relief found in REM sleep

Are you seeking relief from the symptoms of Fibromyalgia?  It may be as close as your bed and consistent, healthful sleep. Photo: Sleep / Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTONOctober 29, 2013 — Restorative, REM sleep may be one critical element in relieving symptoms of fibromyalgia.

New research confirms that fibromyalgia (FM) is a physical syndrome not a psychological ailment. This clarification, by a team of well-respected FM physicians headed by Dr. Frank Rice, has brought relief to sufferers previously told the affliction is ‘all in the mind’.


SEE RELATED: Fibromyalgia pain: Resetting the hypothalamus with diet, sleep, excercise


FM is a syndrome and not a disease by virtue of definition of terms. What defines disease is a non-injury related illness that produces specific symptoms and signs which affect specific locations with predictable pathology and etiology. FM evades definition as a disease because of the diverse physiological symptoms. This lack of a definable disease state can translate in the mind of many to the belief that without a disease, one should not be ill.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The convergence of symptoms can control one’s life almost immeasurably.

Most victims of FM are familiar with the diagnostic criteria of positive indicators of 11 points of tenderness in 18 specific areas on the body. Not having all 11 does not necessarily mean one does not have FM as people respond differently to this syndrome.

Victims are familiar with muscle pain, traveling nerve pain, chronic fatigue, headaches –often migraines, feeling so poorly that being bedridden is not unusual and chronic sleep issues.


SEE RELATED: Fibromyalgia solved: Not in the mind, but a very real physical ailment


Restorative rapid eye movement (deep) sleep is essential to control all of the symptoms of FM.

Studies confirm that lack of the deep sleep necessary to ward of symptoms is cumulative, which means FM will worsen in increasing degrees and strength over time without proper sleep. If this is not corrected, victims of FM will symptomatically worsen on a daily basis.

The important criteria is not the number of hours of sleep, but the quality of the sleep.  One reason FM victims feel fatigued so often is they rarely reach a level of restorative sleep. Pain makes one fatigued, but pain, among other symptoms, will lessen with healthy levels of deep sleep.

Many victims rightfully complain they cannot sleep due to discomfort and many more have symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS) that can make deep sleep almost impossible.


SEE RELATED: Fibromyalgia: Drs. Rice and Albrecht help those who suffer


A longitudinal study at the University of Kansas reveals for FM victims, lack of restorative sleep prevents recovery of symptoms, affect’s hormonal and chemical balance and dramatically increases muscle and nerve pain.

A study reported by the National Institutes of health (NIH) strongly suggests lack of restorative sleep causes systemic disorders and brain imaging shows that poor sleep over time shows atrophy in some brain structures. As a result, not only can the need of quality sleep not be overstated but FM will be slow to respond to treatment of any kind, if at all in some cases.

Every sentient creature has an anabolic and catabolic process. Catabolism is the wear and tear on the brain and body. Normally, this process occurs during our waking hours when we draw on resources to garner and expend energy.

Anabolism is the cellular rejuvenation that usually occurs during sleep, restoring our bodies and minds. Newly released findings from a branch of NIH-Neurological Disorders and Stroke posits that the brain builds up a chemical allostasis or build-up or load from the breakdown created by the catabolic phase and sleep is mandatory to ‘clean up’ the chemical effects of catabolic load.

If one does not sleep well, the process is interrupted and one remains in catabolic phase and eventually sickens to a point where the immune system is affected leaving one open to illness and disease.

For those with FM, the imbalance can be devastating. FDA approved drugs that promote rest and pain reduction for those with FM are Lyrica, Sevella and Cymbalta. Sometimes, a doctor must try each to determine what works best. These drugs have been known to ease symptoms for up to 40 percent of FM victims.

A relatively new drug for FM is a central nervous system depressant called Xyrem. Not only does it promote REM sleep, it is known to reduce FM pain by 30 percent. Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe Xyrem because it has a street name of GHB and used as a ‘date rape’ drug.

Non-prescription methods to induce better sleep include but are not limited to: creating a soothing background sound known as ‘white noise’ such as a fan, not taking naps and trying to sleep regular nighttime hours, avoiding caffeine, late night overeating, stress, anxiety and non-relaxing activities prior to bedtime help.

One significant means of training the sub-conscious mind to induce sleep is to use the bedroom solely for sleep and no other reason. Eventually, the sub-conscious mind, responsible for 80-90 percent of our behavior, will recognize the bedroom as a specific place for rest and sleep and will relax the mind and body automatically.

If stress and anxiety are the order of the day, many psychologists suggest watching 30 or more minutes of comedy on TV to replace negativity and lighten stress.

Those who try this swear by the positive, sleep inducing effect.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist


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Paul R. Mountjoy

Paul Mountjoy is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science

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