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Living With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue

Lifestyle changes and the right medications can help ease fatigue and restless sleep from fibromyalgia.
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WebMD Feature

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."

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Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are considered separate but related disorders. They share a common symptom -- severe fatigue that greatly interferes with people's lives.

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.

Sleep and Fibromyalgia Fatigue

When Rose first sees a patient with fibromyalgia syndrome and chronic fatigue, she makes sure that other causes of fatigue, like anemia (low blood count) and thyroid problems, have been addressed.

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."

Living With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue

Sleeping pills aren't the answer, says Rose. They are not intended for chronic long-term use.  

Indeed, living with fibromyalgia is more than just popping a pill, says Martin Grabois, MD, chairman of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "A good deal is self-treatment. Patients have to be active, not passive."

First step: Patients may need to be checked for symptoms of snoring and sleep-related breathing problems. Sleep apnea, respiratory problems, allergies, and big tonsils or tongue are among the possibilities, Rose tells WebMD. "A lot of those things can be corrected."

What you can do. Lifestyle changes -- cutting back on caffeine, alcohol, and smoking -- may be necessary to improve sleep. Sleep habits may need to change. To make your bedroom more sleep-friendly, it's important to:

  • Limit noise, light, and other stimuli (like pets).
  • Keep the room temperature and bedding comfortable.
  • Do something relaxing before bed, like listening to music or reading.
  • Turn the alarm clock so it's not facing you.
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