Objective: To determine whether disrupted slow wave sleep (SWS) would evoke musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and an alpha electroencephalograph (EEG) sleep pattern. We selectively deprived 12 healthy, middle aged, sedentary women without muscle discomfort of SWS for 3 consecutive nights. Effects were assessed for the following measures: polysomnographic sleep, musculoskeletal tender point pain threshold, skinfold tenderness, reactive hyperemia (inflammatory flare response), somatic symptoms, and mood state.
Methods: Sleep was recorded and scored using standard methods. On selective SWS deprivation (SWSD) nights, when delta waves (indicative of SWS) were detected on EEG, a computer generated tone (maximum 85 decibels) was delivered until delta waves disappeared. Musculoskeletal tender points were measured by dolorimetry; skinfold tenderness was assessed by skin roll procedure; and reactive hyperemia was assessed with a cotton swab test. Subjects completed questionnaires on bodily feelings, symptoms, and mood.
Results: On each SWSD night, SWS was decreased significantly with minimal alterations in total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and other sleep stages. Subjects showed a 24% decrease in musculoskeletal pain threshold after the third SWSD night. They also reported increased discomfort, tiredness, fatigue, and reduced vigor. The flare response (area of vasodilatation) in skin was greater than baseline after the first, and again, after the third SWSD night. However, the automated program for SWSD did not evoke an alpha EEG sleep pattern.
Conclusion: Disrupting SWS, without reducing total sleep or sleep efficiency, for several consecutive nights is associated with decreased pain threshold, increased discomfort, fatigue, and the inflammatory flare response in skin. These results suggest that disrupted sleep is probably an important factor in the pathophysiology of symptoms in fibromyalgia.