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Fibromyalgia is a medical syndrome that causes widespread pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints as well as sleep problems and chronic daytime fatigue. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, between 80 and 90% of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia are middle-aged women, although it can affect both sexes and people of all ages. Fibromyalgia is a confusing and often misunderstood condition. In the past, people who sought treatment for fibromyalgia symptoms were frequently told that their symptoms were "all in the head" and that they did not represent any known disease. However, in recent decades medical studies have proven that fibromyalgia does indeed exist, and that it is estimated to affect between 2% and 6% of people worldwide.
For people with fibromyalgia, the combination of pain and sleep disturbance is a double-edged sword: the pain makes sleep more difficult and sleep deprivation exacerbates pain. The good news is that reduction in sleep disturbance is usually followed by improvement in pain symptoms. This also highlights the importance of healthy sleep and to find a sleep professional in treating this disease.
Medical researchers have long sought to clarify the association between sleep disturbance and pain. Very little is known but a few key findings indicate that sleep and pain are intricately linked. For example, studies of patients experiencing pain after surgery show disturbed sleep, reduced rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and a normalization of sleep as recovery proceeds. People with fibromyalgia may also experience an alteration in their patterns of slow wave sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep. In one study , researchers selectively deprived a group of healthy middle-aged women of slow wave sleep for a period of three days. In response, the women showed a decreased tolerance for pain and increased levels of discomfort and fatigue, suggesting that such sleep disruption may play an important role in the development of fibromyalgia symptoms.
In addition, sleep aides are widely and increasingly used by people with fibromyalgia, although their long-term effectiveness for alleviation of pain is doubtful.