Sleep problems and fibromyalgia

Tired woman in pain sitting at her computer - suffering from sleep problem and myalgia?.Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology involving more than 12,000 women, indicates that, over a 10 year period, women with sleep problems are at significantly higher risk of developing fibromyalgia than women without sleep problems.


Fibromyalgia is a syndrome mainly characterised by chronic pain, often felt throughout the body, in muscles, tendons and soft tissues. It is often felt at “trigger points”, and radiates from those points outward. Fibromyalgia sufferers often experience severe daytime fatigue, depression, anxiety and memory problems, but the actual cause of fibromyalgia is still largely unknown. While men do develop fibromyalgia, it is more than 10 times as common in women, with the highest risk group being women between 20 and 50 years of age.

At the outset of this study, all the participating women were free of physical impairment, musculoskeletal pain and/or fibromyalgia. Ten years later 2.6 percent of them had developed fibromyalgia, and it was found that women who reported sleep problems were significantly more likely to have developed fibromyalgia than women without sleep problems. Women who reported having difficulty sleeping “always” or “often” had nearly 3.5 times greater incidence of fibromyalgia than women who did not have problems sleeping.

While the study does not actually prove that sleep problems cause fibromyalgia, it does establish a strong connection between sleep problems and fibromyalgia. However, the research article [ref. 1] also provides references to other research, where a causal link between sleep problems and chronic pain conditions similar to those found in fibromyalgia has been established. Taking this into account, the findings from the current study may be seen as support for the possibility that sleep problems could play a role in the development of fibromyalgia.

To establish whether sleep problems contribute to the development of fibromyalgia or not will require a lot more research yet. Nevertheless, a good treatment plan for fibromyalgia or any other chronic pain condition certainly should include measures to improve sleep quality.

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  1. Mork, P. J. and Nilsen, T. I. L. (2012), Sleep problems and risk of fibromyalgia: Longitudinal data on an adult female population in Norway. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 64: 281–284. doi: 10.1002/art.33346