Fibromyalgia and Sleep Apnea

Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a chronic disorder which results in pain across the body. As well as pain, people with this disorder can struggle to sleep and suffer fatigue. The condition can increase the risk of developing a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea could be a contributing factor in making your FMS symptoms worse.

Therefore, treating sleep apnea can help manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Treatment that can help you sleep better, including lifestyle changes, may ease the pain and fatigue caused by fibromyalgia while helping to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a medical condition that creates breathing difficulties as you sleep. The frequent interruptions to sleep caused by this disorder lead to poor quality sleep and excessive daytime fatigue. 

The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea, where a collapse of the upper airways causes cessations in breathing. The brain reacts to the falling blood oxygen levels by prompting the body to awake for air.

These breathing cessations and awakenings for air can happen many times every hour. Often it takes a bed partner to first notice these mini-arousals from sleep, but sometimes you can also awake gasping for air. 

However, the cumulative effect of this disrupted sleep can have serious health consequences if the disorder remains undiagnosed. 

Obstructive sleep apnea places you at increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and depression. However, once diagnosed, obstructive sleep apnea can be treated.

The Similarities Between the Two Disorders

Although there appears to be a relationship between sleep apnea and fibromyalgia, research has not shown the exact reasons. There are a number of similarities in the symptoms of the two conditions which can make diagnosis harder. Some of these shared symptoms include:

  • disrupted sleep
  • fatigue
  • poor concentration
  • depression

Further symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • snoring
  • frequent awakenings overnight
  • morning headaches
  • increased irritability
  • dry mouth or sore throat in the morning

Anyone with fibromyalgia who also suspects they display symptoms of a sleep disorder should consult with their doctor who can arrange a sleep study. This usually involves an overnight stay at a sleep lab where your sleep is monitored. 

Diagnosis is important in reducing the risk of the serious health complications linked to obstructive sleep apnea. Once diagnosed, a treatment plan can can be recommended in relation to the severity of your sleep disorder.

Treatment Options

Being able to sleep well can help ease the pain and the fatigue caused by FMS. As the treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea are aimed at removing the obstacles to quality sleep, they could also benefit someone with FMS. The following are some of the main treatment options.

CPAP therapy

CPAP therapy is a leading treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It uses a machine to deliver a steady stream of pressurized air through a mask worn while asleep. The pressurized air prevents the upper airways from collapsing. This in turn negates the need for frequent awakenings for air and improves the quality of your sleep.

By improving your sleep CPAP can reduce your fatigue. However, the mask can be an issue if you experience jaw or face pain due to fibromyalgia. There are three main types of masks available, full-face masks, nasal masks and nasal pillow masks. You may find one mask type is better suited for the pain you experience. 

If you do struggle to adapt to CPAP therapy an alternative is an oral appliance, which resembles a mouthguard. Worn overnight, the goal is the same as CPAP. The appliance positions the jaw in a way which allows unobstructed air flow as you sleep, removing the sleep busting breathing difficulties.

Lifestyle Changes

Obesity is a major contributing factor for obstructive sleep apnea. Therefore, lifestyle changes will also be recommended by your doctor. This can include a healthier diet and more exercise. Weight loss can reduce the tissues in the throat whose collapse overnight leads to breathing difficulties.

Exercise is also important for people with FMS. However, for both disorders exercising too close to bedtime can have the reverse affect, making you too wired to sleep. Similarly, you do not want to eat a heavy meal close to bed as your body will need to concentrate on digestion rather than sleep. It is recommended you avoid caffeine from early afternoon and also reduce your alcohol intake.

A Better Sleeping Environment

To sleep well you need a bedroom and nightly routine which encourages sleep. You want to have a dark, cool, relaxing and comfortable bedroom. Remove screens from the bedroom and turn off any blue-light emitting screens (cell phones, laptops, e-books) at least an hour before bed time. Look to establish a bedtime routine, going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning.


There are fibro medicines which you could be prescribed to address the pain you experience at night. By easing the pain you can achieve a better nights sleep, which will also help with your sleep apnea.

Further Options

Any method which sees you sleep better could help manage both conditions, easing any pain while reducing daytime fatigue. Further options to aid sleep which may be recommended include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – anxiety about not being able to sleep can make sleeping harder. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help provide more positive thought patterns ahead of bedtime.
  • Meditation – in fact any relaxing techniques, including reading or a nice warm bath before bed, which helps you fall asleep.
  • Music – listening to music has been shown to enhance sleep for some people.
  • Surgery – this can be a last resort option for treating sleep apnea for people who struggle with CPAP. However, fibromyalgia may slow recovery rate.