Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Fibromyalgia

One of the worst things about fibromyalgia is trying to function without sleep. If you have fibromyalgia, not only do you have to find some way to sleep in the face of chronic pain, but you also have a whole host of other symptoms that make sleeping difficult. There’s fibromyalgia-induced insomnia, frequent urination, chronic itching, and worst of all, obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea and fibromyalgia seem to go together frequently. And people with either condition are often at a higher risk of developing the other. But what exactly is sleep apnea? Why does it seem to be so closely related to fibromyalgia? And what can you do to treat it?

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition where you spontaneously stop breathing during the night. After a few seconds, you then start breathing again though often not as deeply or evenly as in normal sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is slightly different because the airway actually closes. Often this closing of the airway happens after the throat or tongue become relaxed, closing or covering your airway.

Sleep apnea is hard to get diagnosed since there are no obvious signs when you aren’t sleeping. Doctors can’t perform any diagnostic tests to determine if you have sleep apnea. Instead, the only way to get a diagnosis for sleep apnea is to stay for an overnight observation where doctors will monitor your breathing.

People with obstructive sleep apnea have a hard time getting restful sleep, which puts them at significant risk for a number of serious health problems. These includes chronic fatigue or mental fog and high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes. That’s why getting a diagnosis early is so important.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea And Fibromyalgia

We know that people with fibromyalgia are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea as well. We don’t know why that’s the case, however. There are a number of theories. For instance, some doctors have suggested that the brain may play a role, with fibromyalgia patients having more active brain activity during sleep, which leads to sleep disorders.

Others have pointed out that people with fibromyalgia are often prescribed opioids, which also contribute to sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea since they suppress the central nervous system.

But while we don’t know for sure what causes people with fibromyalgia to develop sleep apnea (and vice-versa), we do know that sleep apnea can make your fibromyalgia significantly worse. The chronic fatigue of fibromyalgia is obviously hard to deal with even when you are getting enough sleep, so having a condition that always makes you tired combined with a condition that makes restful sleep impossible is a terrible combination.

And the lack of sleep caused by obstructive sleep apnea can make all of your other fibromyalgia symptoms, like the muscle pain, even worse. That’s why it’s important to find an effective way to treat your sleep apnea.

What Can You Do To Treat It?

The most basic form of treatment for sleep apnea is to avoid things that trigger it. Obesity is a major risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, so losing a few pounds is the best thing you can do to manage it. Of course, as we all know, that’s easier said than done.

An easier option is to avoid alcohol and smoking before going to bed, which makes sleep apnea much worse and to practice good sleep habits like getting to bed on time. You can also switch to sleeping on your side rather than your back, which will help to keep your airway open.

And while there are unfortunately no pharmaceutical or surgical options for treating obstructive sleep apnea, you can get medical treatment in the form of a CPAP machine. A CPAP machine is essentially a mask you wear to bed that forces a stream of air down your throat, keeping your airway clear. It’s actually quite an effective treatment for sleep apnea.

In fact, to offer some personal, anecdotal evidence, my dad and both my brothers struggle with sleep apnea, and all three have said that their CPAP machines changed their life. They all say they have much more energy during the day and can even think more clearly. So if you have obstructive sleep apnea, you might consider investing in a CPAP machine.

So what about you? Do you have sleep apnea? Does it seem to be related to your fibromyalgia? Do you have a CPAP machine you like to rave about? And if not, what do you do to treat your condition? Let us know in the comments section.


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