13 tips for getting a better night’s sleep with fibromyalgia

This article was originally published on NationalPainReport.com and is being republished here with permission from the editor. This post may contain affiliate links. 

According to multiple research studies, fibromyalgia patients have difficulty reaching and maintaining the deeper stages of sleep. In this article, several sleep experts share their best tips for improving sleep with fibromyalgia. | Fed Up with Fatigue

How did you sleep last night? If you have fibromyalgia, your answer is probably not very well. I know the feeling! I’ve struggled to get a good night’s rest for years.

Unrefreshing sleep is one of the primary symptoms of fibromyalgia. No matter how much we sleep, we still wake up exhausted. Multiple research studies have confirmed our disordered sleep. We don’t spend enough time in the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep, and some studies have also shown that we have alpha wave intrusions, which are associated with wakefulness, during the deeper stages of sleep.

“At this point, there are a lot of mysteries about why fibromyalgia patients don’t sleep well, why they’re fatigued and what causes this, but unfortunately the findings we do have don’t tell us very much about what to do about getting deeper sleep,” said Dr. Karl Doghramji, director of the Jefferson Health Sleep Disorders Center in Philadelphia.

Until researchers figure it out, there are a few steps we can take to try to improve our sleep quality. I reached out to three different sleep experts around the country and asked them to share their best advice for getting better sleep with fibromyalgia. Below are their most useful tips.

    • Getting a good night’s sleep actually starts in the morning. “It is essential to either be exposed to natural sunlight or a light box, such as [the] goLite, for the first hour of waking up to be able to maintain a good circadian rhythm,” said Catherine Chua, behavorial sleep medicine specialists at Mt. Sinai Integrative Sleep Center in New York City. Going for a short walk or doing some light exercise in the morning can help stabilize the circadian rhythm, too. (Yes, I know it’s hard to exercise with fibro!)
    • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. “It’s critical for fibro patients to keep regular bedtime hours,” Doghramji said. “By regular, I’m emphasizing more the time they get up in the morning [and] not so much the time they go to bed at night. The time one gets up in the morning is a strong determiner of one’s next 24-hour circadian rhythm, including the time the person is likely to fall asleep the next night, so regularity is of critical importance. That applies to weekends and weekdays and vacations as well.”
    • Consider getting a sleep study. “If you have frequent interruptions in your sleep, daytime drowsiness, unusual movements during sleep, snoring or breathing pauses, and/or difficulty falling/staying asleep that you believe are not due solely to your fibromyalgia, you should discuss these symptoms with your primary-care physician or sleep specialist,” said Dr. Clete Kushida, medical director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center in Stanford, California. Sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder are all common comorbidities in fibromyalgia patients. The diagnosis and treatment of these disorders can improve sleep.
    • Take an afternoon siesta. For those who are able to nap, “I do recommend a brief nap in the afternoon around 1 p.m. or so, something along the lines of a 15-minute or half hour nap – no more than that,” Doghramji said. “If you nap more than that, it can actually disrupt your next night’s ability to sleep well.”
    • Wind down and relax for a couple of hours before going to bed. Read a non-stimulating book. Meditate. Listen to calming music. Take a warm shower or bath to relax your muscles.
    • Put down the mobile devices, turn off the TV and dim the lights. “Try to eliminate as much light as possible for a couple of hours before sleep,” Doghramji said. “Light has a way of disturbing circadian rhythms by diminishing melatonin levels, so making the environment as dim as possible for a couple of hours before bedtime may be helpful.”
    • Block the blue light. If you absolutely have to use your mobile devices or watch TV before bedtime, consider purchasing a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses. (You can buy inexpensive ones on Amazon.) For Android smartphone users, there are blue-light-blocking apps that you can download. Newer iPhones and iPads come with a built-in “night shift” option. If you have older devices, Amazon sells blue-light-blocking screen protectors. For laptops and desktops, you can download the f.lux program.
    • Avoid overeating or drinking excessive fluids. Eating too much close to bedtime can cause acid reflux and tummy troubles. Drinking too many fluids will have you visiting the bathroom all night long.
    • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime because it can disrupt sleep.
    • Invest in a quality bed. “Ensure that your bed surface/mattress is good and does not cause exacerbation of your fibromyalgia,” Kushida said.
    • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Cover or replace bright alarm clocks and other device lights. Install room-darkening shades.
    • Try progressive muscle relaxation. “From my clinical experience, patients with chronic pain find progressive muscle relaxation helpful as tensing and releasing different parts of the body helps individuals relax and improve pain and sleep issues,” Chua said.
    • Seek help. “Don’t suffer too long,” Doghramji advised. “Go see a doctor. If you don’t get the right answer from your family doctor, or they just jump right to a sleeping pill, go to a specialist. There are a lot of sleep specialists out there who can be helpful, and I think they’re underutilized by fibromyalgia patients.”

I also asked if there are any supplements or prescription sleep aids that might be helpful for improving deep sleep. Here are their responses:

      • Chua: “Gabapentin is found to be effective in increasing slow-wave sleep, which is often referred to as deep sleep. The physicians I work with often prescribe it at a low dose for patients who have sleep efficiency but complain about the quality of their sleep. Trazodone is another medication the sleep center uses to enhance sleep quality in patients.”
      • Doghramji: “In terms of supplements, the one that’s probably most researched is melatonin, but there’s no good evidence on what dose should be used. I typically recommend a low dose close to bedtime, something like 1 milligram or so, maybe a half hour before going to bed. Some people will take that, and nothing happens. For those, I recommend a gradual dose increase up to 3 milligrams. … There are three medications which are meant to not only help you fall asleep but stay asleep, and those are Ambien extended release or Ambien CR (generic name: zolpidem), Lunesta (generic name: eszopiclone) and Belsomra (generic name: suvorexant). They’ve been shown in patients who have difficulty with sleep initiation or maintenance to actually improve the quality of sleep. One of their major negatives as a collective group is that they can cause daytime sedation. Secondly, all three medications have a Drug Enforcement Administration scheduling. What that means is they may have a tendency for an increased likelihood for abuse and diversion. Thankfully, that tendency is not that high with these drugs. Long-term studies have shown that people tend not to escalate the use of these drugs in general.” These drugs are typically not recommended for people with a history of drug abuse.
      • Kushida: “There aren’t any medications that I would recommend unless first being evaluated by a sleep specialist. The best treatment for chronic insomnia would be cognitive behavorial treatment for insomnia.”

So, now it’s your turn … What are your best strategies for improving your sleep? Share in the comments below! 

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  1. Alice Rodriguez says

    While I agree with most of these I placed a BIG (30 lbs) salt lamp in my bedroom. It sits behind a square block but many might consider it bright. It agrees with me and I sleep better than I ever have. I grow, make, eat and rub cannabis. It helps most of all. I can sleep all night if I take enough.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

      I really love the salt lamps. They’re just beautiful! I use cannabis for sleep, too. Good stuff!

      • Giuliana says

        What kind of cannabis and how can I get some if not legal in my state 🙁

        • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

          If you don’t live in a legal state, then your only option is to buy it on the street, which is a bad, bad idea for lots of reasons.

          As an alternative, there’s hemp CBD oil. You can buy that online, regardless of what state you live in. I had good results using American Shaman CBD. There’s a link to American Shaman in this post, along w/ a discount code for my readers. I don’t receive any monetary compensation if you buy from them – I just liked their products and wanted to share it w/ others b/c it’s tough to find a reliable source for hemp CBD. There are a lot of companies selling inferior products and ripping off people. https://fedupwithfatigue.com/cbd-oil-and-fibromyalgia/

  2. Maureen Olafsen says

    400mg of 5-HTP (capsules) taken 1/2 hour before bedtime have helped me the most. I still wake up for the washroom during the night, as I need to keep my fluids up, but my sleep has been deeper and longer since taking these. I would be lost without them. If you’re going to try them….work up to the dose gradually as everyone is different. I weaned off of Pregabalin (Lyrica) at the same time as weaning onto the 5-HTP. I also take Vitamin B complex and Calcium/ Magnesium, which I think also helps with the sleep.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

      I’m glad 5-HTP is helping you w/ sleep. It is helpful for some people. I take it in order to help with mood. My former fibro doctor suggested up to 300mg to help w/ sleep, but it energizes a small number of people, and I fall into that category so I take mine in the morning so it doesn’t mess up my sleep at night.

  3. Cognitive behavioral sleep therpy for insomnia involves restricting sleep as a way of hopefully helping you get to a point that you can sleep more deeply (and then longet??).
    Restricting sleep for any reason with fibro seems so counterproductive because I pay such a price the next day, with Incredible spikes in all fibro symptoms!
    I would love to hear from people that have actually had with sleep restriction that have fibro.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

      I definitely would not restrict my sleep w/ fibro. Like you, that seems counterproductive to me. I’m not really familiar w/ CBT for insomnia. I would think there’s more to it than restricting sleep. Maybe that’s just one strategy that is used sometimes.

  4. Cindy Fisher says

    Donn, thank you so much for this website and the FB page! I was diagnosed with FM/ME almost 4 years ago, and yours is first site where I have found useful information. Keep up the great work!!

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

      Thank you so much, Cindy, for your kind words. You guys keep me motivated! I hope you’re able to make use of the sleep tips in some way.

  5. I had not slept more rhan a couple hours at a time for 6 months. I read about Hemp CBD oil from your site and bought mine from NuLeaf. I take 10 drops at night which is what the bottle says. But everyone is different i tried less but it was not enough. I do 5 drops in the morning and it gives me a calm but not drowsy. I am 5’7″ and weigh 165 lbs. and have Fibro, Chronic Fatigue, Restless Leg Syndrome and mild aleep apnea. I am so grateful for this stuff. I have been doing it for 3 weeks now and the only drug i have taken is Soma and Tramodol for severe storms that caused severe flareups. I am so grateful for this site.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

      That’s awesome news! So glad the CBD oil is helping you to sleep! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Natalie says

    I love all of your articles. You have the most helpful information for a fibromyalgia website. Please keep up your excellent work!!

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says

      Awww, thank you so much! You just made my day! I hope you’re able to use some of the tips to get better sleep!


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