Poor Sleep Linked to Increased Risk of Fibromyalgia in Women

New research suggests that middle-aged and older women with sleep problems are at a greater risk to develop the chronic musculoskeletal pain syndrome.

Researchers from Norway have uncovered an association between sleep problems and increased risk of fibromyalgia in women. According to a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, the risk of fibromyalgia increased with severity of sleep problems, and the association was stronger among middle-aged and older women than younger women.

It is estimated that fibromyalgia affects more than 5 million adults aged 18 and older in the United States, with a general prevalence of at 3% to 5%. Studies have shown that syndrome onset typically occurs in middle age and that up to 90% of those with fibromyalgia are women. Although previous research has found that insomnia, nocturnal awakening, and fatigue are common symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia, it is unknown whether poor sleep habits contribute to the development of this pain syndrome.

In the study, Paul Mork, MD, and Tom Nilsen, MD, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, examined the impact of sleep problems on risk of fibromyalgia in a population of women aged 20 and older who had participated in a large population-based health study (the HUNT study). The researchers selected 12,350 women who were free of musculoskeletal pain and movement disorders for the current study.

“Our findings indicate a strong association between sleep disturbance and fibromyalgia risk in adult women,” said Dr. Mork in a statement. “We found a dose-response relation, where women who often reported sleep problems had a greater risk of fibromyalgia than those who never experienced sleep problems.”

Results showed that at follow-up, 327 women had developed fibromyalgia, representing an incidence proportion of 2.6% during 10 years. The adjusted relative risk for women who reported having sleep problems “often” or “always” was 5.41 among women over 45 years of age and 2.98 among those between 20 and 44 years.

The authors stated that further studies are needed to investigate whether early detection and treatment of sleep disturbance reduces the risk of fibromyalgia in women.