Could sleep deprivation be a root cause for many fibromyalgia symptoms? While sleep issues are a fact of life for most of us with Fibromyalgia, sleep studies are still not commonly provided. And, often, even when they are they provide little helpful information. The lucky few find that they actually suffer from treatable sleep apnea.
I spent a good seven years living with major sleep issues, something I’ve only finally resolved in the last year or so with the help of CBD oil.
In addition to sleep issues, those of us with Fibromyalgia also live with what is known is generalized hyper-vigilance, meaning that our bodies are a state of hyper-awareness, constantly sensing threats when threats aren’t there.
This leads to anxiety and tension, both of which can increase pain. This hyper-vigilance can also create negative moods that result in lashing out at those around us who mean us no harm at all. Generalized hyper-vigilance can often mean that we may see someone trying to help us as a threat.
Of course, increased anxiety and tension can also lead to more issues with sleep.
Related: Symptoms and signs of fibromyalgia
A 2017 study found that the sleep deprivation may actually be the cause of this generalized hyper-vigilance.
It’s during sleep that we consolidate memories and process what has happened in our lives. During this consolidation, we categorize memories and label stimuli as fearful or safe, thus helping us make good choices in the future when faced with similar stimuli.
Past research has shown a connection between sleep deprivation and cognitive issues, emotional processing (the ability to determine if social cues are friendly or threatening) and control, impaired executive function (ability to complete basic tasks), attention, and working memory.
Again, all of these things are things that are facts of life for those of us living with Fibromyalgia.
Research has located what areas of the brain react during fear consolidation and fear retrieval. Researchers in this study used this information to develop a study looking at the Amygdala of participants as they acquired and processed fear stimuli.
The stimuli in this case were matched color blocks with electric shock. A sleep deprived group (awake for 24h) and a control group (normal sleep prior to the study) completed the fear acquisition construct on Day 2.
The sleep deprived participants experienced greater autonomic reactions to the fearful stimuli as well as higher fear ratings. Amygdala activity also confirmed these higher fear ratings and reactions.
All participants were able to get a normal night’s sleep following the study on Day 2 and were brought back in to evaluate their fear processing during sleep. During this time the fear stimuli should have been processed and extinguished. However, the sleep deprived participants reported higher fear ratings on Day 3.
This study doesn’t answer the question of which comes first, sleep deprivation or pain, nor does it answer the question of how to fix the sleep problem.
But, studies like this do at least help us understand where some of our issues come from and perhaps by understanding that sleep deprivation makes us more likely to feel fearful and anxious, more likely to just someone’s actions or intentions as an attack rather than a neutral or positive action, we can then internally work to adjust our reactions.
Perhaps reminding ourselves that most actions are not intended in a negative way, we can eventually begin to see them as positive, and see those around us as helpful rather than harmful, similarly to the way that forcing a smile long enough will eventually make you feel happier.
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Feng, P., Becker, B., Zheng, Y., & Feng, T. (2017). Sleep deprivation affects fear memory consolidation: bi-stable amygdala connectivity with insula and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 1, 11.
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