Why too little sleep can be a real pain

By Lesley Dobson, Friday 18 November 2011

People who get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night may be at increased risk of fibromyalgia, especially if they happen to be female and over 50
SleepingSleeping

Sleep is a subject that we never seem to tire of (sorry), especially when it comes the effect it has on our health. A new study, carried out by Dr Paul Mork and Dr Tom Nilsen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has found that problems with sleeping are associated with a greater risk of developing fibromyalgia. And middle-aged and older women are at greater risk than younger women and men.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain to the muscles, tendons and ligaments throughout out the body. It can also affect the bursa – sacs filled with fluid that help prevent friction in our joints (most of us have about 160 in our bodies). Fibromyalgia is also associated with fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, numbness, headaches, chest pain and other symptoms.

Around one in 20 people around the world have fibromyalgia, which means living with widespread pain and fatigue, which can make normal life very difficult indeed. In England and Wales as many as1.76 million adults could be affected. Past research has found that it usually starts in middle age, and as many as 90 percent of those affected are women.

Sleeping problems including insomnia, night-time waking and fatigue have been connected with fibromyalgia in the past, but it wasn’t clear whether poor sleep was a cause or a result of the condition. For this study, published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, Dr Mork and Dr Nilsen studied 12,350 women who were, at the beginning of the study, free from musculoskeletal pain and movement disorders.

When the women were followed up 10 years later, 327 reported that they had fibromyalgia. “Our findings indicate a strong association between sleep disturbance and fibromyalgia risk in adult women,” said Dr Mork. “We found a dose-response relation, where women who often reported sleep problems had a greater risk of fibromyalgia than those who never experienced sleep problems.” The research showed that the women who said that they ‘often or always’ had sleep problems and were aged 45 or older had almost twice the risk of developing fibromyalgia as those aged between 20 and 44 years old.

Doctors Mork and Nilsen would like to see more research carried out to investigate whether early detection and treatment of sleep disturbance could reduce the risk of fibromyalgia in women.

Useful Websites

Fibromyalgia Association UK: www.fibromyalgia-associationuk.org

FibroAction: www.fibroaction.org

British Pain Society: www.britishpainsociety.org

NHS Choices: www.nhs.uk


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