The role of sleep in pain and fibromyalgia

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2015 Sep;11(9):513-20. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2015.56. Epub 2015 Apr 28.


Fibromyalgia is a common cause of chronic widespread pain, characterized by reduced pressure pain thresholds with hyperalgesia and allodynia. In addition to pain, common symptoms include nonrestorative sleep, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, stiffness and mood disturbances. The latest research indicates that the dominant pathophysiology in fibromyalgia is abnormal pain processing and central sensitization. Neuroimaging studies have shown that patients with fibromyalgia have similar neural activation to healthy age-matched and gender-matched individuals; however, they have a lower pressure-pain threshold. Polysomnography data has demonstrated that these patients have reduced short-wave sleep and abnormal α-rhythms, suggestive of wakefulness during non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Sleep deprivation in healthy individuals can cause symptoms of fibromyalgia, including myalgia, tenderness and fatigue, suggesting that sleep dysfunction might be not only a consequence of pain, but also pathogenic. Epidemiological studies indicate that poor sleep quality is a risk factor for the development of chronic widespread pain among an otherwise healthy population. Mechanistically, sleep deprivation impairs descending pain-inhibition pathways that are important in controlling and coping with pain. Clinical trials of pharmacological and nonpharmacological therapies have shown that improving sleep quality can reduce pain and fatigue, further supporting the hypothesis that sleep dysfunction is a pathogenic stimulus of fibromyalgia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / etiology*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Fibromyalgia / etiology*
  • Fibromyalgia / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / complications*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology