Fibromyalgia: Understanding Sleep

It's common for those who have fibromyalgia to suffer from a variety of sleep problems. The sleep problems can contribute to their overall pain and fatigue.

As one fibromyalgia sufferer said, "Sleep is something you take for granted until it's something you can't do anymore." She went on to explain the mental and physical toll lack of sleep was putting on her body. "I would go to bed feeling anxious because I wasn't sure if I would be able to sleep at all that night," she said.

For many non-fibromyalgia sufferers, sleep is simply a matter of lying down and closing your eyes. It seems like a simple, natural process. But the process of sleeping may be natural, but it's surprisingly complicated.

Here's a closer look at sleep and what happens to your body when you sleep. Understanding sleep might help you understand how to improve your sleep.

What is Sleep?

Sleep is a period of time where your mind and body shuts down to repair and restore itself. According to the Sleep Research Society (SRS), an organization of scientists that study sleep, sleep is "a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles."

Sleep does not really conserve energy, says the SRS. It decreases a person's metabolism by just five to ten percent.

The Stages of Sleep

There are four stages of sleep.

· The Drifting Off

· Stage 2 Non-REM Sleep

· Stage 3 Non-REM Sleep

· REM Sleep

REM sleep refers to the state of sleep where you become temporarily paralyzed, your breathing becomes more rapid, your eyes rapidly jerk (where the acronym REM comes from meaning rapid eye movement) and your breathing becomes more irregular, shallow and rapid. It's the dream stage of sleep.

The average healthy person getting a good night's sleep will go through three to five intervals of REM sleep a night.

The Drifting Off Stage (Stage N1)

This stage is also called Stage 1 Non-REM Sleep or Stage N1 according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). In most sleepers this stage lasts up to ten minutes. Someone in Stage 1 Non-REM sleep can easily be woken up. If you're caught drowsing, you're in non-REM sleep even if you deny having slept.

General characteristics of this stage of sleep include:

· Decrease in brain temperature

· Little or no body movement

· Reduced blood flow to the brain

· Slow, even breathing

· A decrease in blood pressure

· Regular heartbeat

You'll lose most conscious awareness of your surroundings. Sudden twitches and jerks are common. Alpha brain ways reduce to 4 to 7 Hz from the awake frequency of 8 to 13 Hz.

Stage 2 Non-REM Sleep (Stage N2)

At this point you'll fully lose conscious awareness of what's going on around you. In the average adult, this stage takes up between 45 to 55 percent of total sleep.

General characteristics of this stage of sleep include:

· Inability to see anything even if your eyes are open

· Larger brain waves

· Easily awakened

Stage 3 Non-REM Sleep (Stage N3)

This is the stage where a person might experience problems like sleep walking, sleep talking or night terrors. If someone were to wake you up at this stage, you would feel very groggy.

It's much more difficult to wake someone up from this stage of non-REM sleep.

REM Sleep

About 20% to 25% of total sleep time is REM sleep. Memorable dreaming happens in this stage. Characteristics of this stage include:

· A drastic increase in blood pressure

· Irregular and increased pulse rate

· Large muscles are paralyzed

· Irregular breathing and the need for more oxygen

· Rapid eye movement

· Twitching of face, fingers and toes


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