Fibromyalgia Pain and Sleep

Good Afternoon Peers,

Yesterday I posted about my flare up of pain and my subsequent early bedtime.  I believe it is necessary to follow-up on that post with a discussion about chronic pain and items Peers use to assist their pain levels, both prior to sleep and during time spent in bed. There are many different ways Peers I speak with use when trying to accomplish getting that often elusive good nights sleep. Persons with Fibromyalgia, and chronic pain, generally have a dysfunction in their brain that creates a lack of effective REM sleep and what the “National Sleep Disorder Foundation” calls microarousals.

My early trip to bed yesterday was not optional considering the amount of pain I was experiencing, however, it did not entail getting a decent rest. I lay in bed, slept for an hour or two, woke up in great pain and then waited until I either fell asleep again or it was time to take another one of my regular medications. All told, I was in bed for 13 hours waiting for the pain to quiet into it’s normal low roar. Despite my medication and my items I have found to create more comfort in aiding sleep, they were of little use.

This is not my every night experience, however it does have elements of my normal sleep pattern; excluding the 13 hours. It took me a few years to figure out that the height and density of my pillows were one of the most important items required for a decent nights sleep. I have pain in my neck and shoulder muscles. Most Peers also experience this. By having pillows that correctly support my neck height allows me to sleep for up to three hours straight through. This is not the case every night, but when it is I feel like breaking out in dance! I never go away on overnight trips without bringing at least one of my own pillows.  One other popular type of pillow that Peers use is the body pillow. It can be used as a type of wedge that supports your body to stay on your side while having a soft weight to lay your backside on or to rest arms and legs on. Experimenting with pillows under your knees as you sleep on your back, or placed in between your knees if you lie on your side are another use of pillows that might help with better sleep.

Additionally, having a mattress type that fits my bodies pain needs is very important. I need a firm mattress with a soft topper for the trigger points in my shoulders, arms and hips. People tease me when I go on vacation with them, telling me that I am just like the woman in the story, “The Princess and the Pea”.  Peers may need a certain weight, light to heavier, of their blankets since they lay atop their muscle trigger points. Using a fan to create white noise helps some to block out intrusive sounds that may awaken them. Over the last few years I have used a fan to accomplish this. I used to own a small machine that created a white noise. This was the same type of machine that you may have seen outside of the doors of therapists to block out both the outside noise and the inside conversation that was occurring. This worked better than a fan for me. One action that use to help me was moving to the couch when I awoke. My body appeared to respond to the cooler surface and would slip into slumber rapidly.

There are also many actions Peers use prior to getting into bed. These include many modalities that help to soothe their pain before slipping under the covers. Taking a hot bath using Epsom salts is something I hear from almost every chronic pain. If you are experiencing a coexisting problem, like severe arthritis or perhaps you have unreliable arm or leg strength that makes getting in and out of the bathtub difficult, a hot shower might soothe your muscle aches. Various types of lotions or creams are often massaged into the muscles prior to bedtime. A heating pad on low equipped with a timer can be effective. The opposite may also assist, a ice pad wrapped in a towel placed on your neck or other sore area as you fall asleep. The last most common tool I hear about often is gentle stretching before getting into bed.

I have not gone into a discussion about various medications, but of course Peers do take these to assist their sleep. This would be something that an individual would need to feel comfortable using, and speak to their doctors about. The other item not discussed is alternative remedies specifically used for sleep aid. I personally believe that each Peer should use what they find works best for them. I am not informed enough to discuss alternative supplements and I leave this up to each individual to discover what works best for them. I will suggest that Peers be careful in choosing these internal sleep aids. Medications have side effects and many, if not most, are addicting and alternative supplements can actually be dangerous, especially if mixed with western medication.

Wishing you compassionate hope for your pain tolerate day,

Lucinda Tart, Fibromyalgia Peer Advocate/Life Skills Advisor