Jackie Yencha is somebody who gets things done -- as much as possible. She has been coping with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue most of her life. But she pushed through college, got married, is raising two kids, and holds a top-level volunteer position with a fibromyalgia advocacy agency. She and her family even organize a charity golf tournament every year to honor her mother, who died of a rare cancer.
She'd like to do more than that -- but that's just not going to happen. Yencha is always fighting sleep problems. "I literally get sick if I don't get sleep," she says. Even on good days, her energy level may fizzle early. "Fatigue is my biggest problem," Yencha tells WebMD. "I've had to give up a lot of things because of the fatigue."
There are several theories about the causes of fibromyalgia, from hormonal disturbances to stress to genetics. While there is no clear consensus about what causes fibromyalgia, most researchers believe fibromyalgia results not from a single event but from a combination of many physical and emotional stressors.
Insomnia -- and the lack of deep, restorative sleep -- is a big part of the problem, explains Mary Rose, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Improving a patient's sleep is an important part of easing fibromyalgia fatigue, Rose tells WebMD. "We know from research that sleep improves mood, pain, and in general how people feel during the day. Regardless of the reasons for the chronic fatigue, if we can get some control over quality of sleep, we're likely to see positive benefits to mood, fatigue, concentration."
The chronic lack of sleep affects a patient's overall health as well as their pain, Rose adds. "They feel lousy, exhausted, and their immune system can be damaged."
Steven Berney, MD, chief of rheumatology at Temple University Health System in Philadelphia, agrees. "In fibromyalgia, all treatments are geared toward helping people sleep better," he tells WebMD. "If we can improve their sleep, patients will get better."