Sleep as an escape: Understanding the interplay of naps and FMS pain

Fibromyalgia syndrome is currently a leading problem of unknown cause in women’s health. With no hope of a definitive cure, sufferers can’t help but sleep it off everyday. 

Courtesy of yuris alhumaydy 

“Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a chronic medical condition associated with an amplification of pain signals in the central nervous and decreased ability of the nervous system to inhibit concomitant pain responses,” say authors of a 2015 research article published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. They further explained that “FMS is a disabling condition with patients experiencing high levels of widespread persistent pain, fatigue, cognitive impairment and sleep disturbance that makes it difficult to engage in everyday activities.”  

An expert in neurological illness and injury, Alice Theadom, who teaches as an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies at Auckland University of Technology, led a team of researchers to figure out why people with FMS nap routinely during the day.   

Past literature maintains that FMS sufferers use daytime napping as a coping mechanism to manage pain and exhaustion. But they aren’t necessarily clinically advised to nap. There’s no medical consensus on the subject.  

Theadom and company studied 1,044 FMS adults between the ages of 18 and 88 who took a daytime nap at least once a day, along with those who napped less frequently. Ninety-three per cent of the study’s participants were female.  

For five months, between September 2010 and February 2011, the participants completed questionnaires and symptom-rating scales from which data about their napping behaviours were extracted. The researchers assessed how long they slept, at what times, if they planned to nap or not and why. FMS sufferers experience varying levels of pain, and they likely struggle with comorbid conditions. A little over half of the participants napped in the afternoon, with the majority of them suffering from at least two comorbidities like arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. 

“Participants who regularly napped on a daily basis had a higher number of comorbidities, higher levels of pain and fatigue, memory difficulties, sleep problems, anxiety and depression.” The younger adults in the study took naps over thirty minutes long and more frequently than their older counterparts, mainly because of pain and irritability. They were also more depressed and had children living in the homes. Anti-depressant use is “positively correlated” to daytime napping. 

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Overall, 87 per cent of the study participants unintendedly napped in the evening. “Those who did not intend to nap had higher levels of pain and depression than intentional nappers,” the researchers say. “It is of concern that a high proportion of people taking a nap regularly on a daily basis, did so without intending to, suggesting the influence of underlying sleep processes on napping behaviour and people’s difficulty in remaining wakeful during the day.”  

Sleep disturbances at night and then the spending of energy resources in the morning increase not only the possibility for daytime naps but also poorer mental health outcomes and more pronounced FMS symptoms. In other words, improving nocturnal sleep may help curb drowsiness during hours of sunshine.  

As the long-term effects of daytime napping on people with FMS remain unclear, Theadom and her team suggest that especially as the practice is evident amongst FMS sufferers, further research on whether it’s good or bad needs to be conducted.  

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