Defend Yourself with a Good Night’s Sleep

by Kristin Thorson, Fibromyalgia Network Editor
Posted: December 30, 2008

Persistent pain and disturbed sleep create a tremendous stress on the body that could potentially drag down a person’s immune system. Given that people with fibromyalgia battle sleep disruption, pain and a number of other stressful symptoms, you may be wondering what impact this is having on your immune system. In fact, this question was asked by Ines Kaufmann, M.D., and co-workers in Munich, Germany.1

Comparing 22 fibromyalgia patients with 22 age and gender-matched healthy control subjects, Kaufmann found a significant reduction in two immune system markers. The markers in question, CD62L and CD11b/CD18, are called adhesion molecules because they stick to the surface of the white blood cells that circulate as part of the immune system. These adhesion molecules work as communication “flags” in the immune system to get white blood cells to travel to places in the body where they need them, such as tissue injury sites. They also are involved in recognizing and destroying infectious organisms, as well as removing toxic substances and debris from the body.

A reduced number of adhesion molecules on the surface of your white blood cells would likely lead to a compromised immune system, one that lags in its ability to get rid of infections and clear up inflammation in the tissues. As a consequence, you may have a more difficult time getting over colds or flu-bugs that commonly occur during the winter months. So if you find yourself trapped with a head cold, flu, or other infection that lingers on and on, try increasing your sleep time to help power up your immune system.

Besides lowering your ability to fend off infections, a decline in adhesion molecules on your white blood cells may also compound your painful symptoms. These molecules also play a role in triggering your white blood cells to release powerful opioid-like pain relievers in the muscles and other tissues where local injury may easily occur.

While the reduction in adhesion molecules may explain why you have trouble getting rid of infections and why the slightest injury produces more pain than it should for you, these defects in immune function cannot identify people specifically with fibromyalgia. Kaufmann’s team has reported similar findings in people with complex regional pain syndrome.2 This means that additional studies are needed to determine the relationship between the immune system changes and the development and persistence of painful conditions. For now, your best defense is a good night’s sleep, and anything else you can do to minimize the stress of your chronic illness.

  1. Kaufmann I, et al. Rheumatol Int [epub ahead of print] December 4, 2008.
  2. Kaufmann I, et al. Clin Immunol 125:103-111, 2007.

48 Responses to Defend Yourself with a Good Night’s Sleep

  1. Shirley A. Cain says:

    I wish that I could get rid of the pain plus everything that goes along with fibromyalgia. My sleeping pattern is non-exhistant at times. I am on so many medications that I don’t know which ones are working or not. I am hoping the scientists find a cure for fibromyalgia and everything that goes with it

    • Jan says:

      I’m with you Shirley. I have to sleep and take the least I can to get by. After 12 years with fibro, I finally gave in to taking pain meds and it relieves some of the pain. We’re so afraid of getting “hooked”, but quality of life must take some consideration. Again, just take what you can get by with.

      Gentle hugs to all

    • Peter H says:

      Understand completley, I go to bed and wonder what time will I wake up, 1, 2 hours or maybe 6 hours. Its such a lottery and destroys the next day. Peter

    • Janis says:

      I have Fibro plus RA and have found that Xanax helps me get more sleep at night.

    • Judy Deitrick says:

      I have been trying Savella and it is working for me. I do not have near the pain I was having. It sounds like you need a Doctor to reassess the meds your on and get rid of unecessary ones and possibly give Savella a chance if you can. Best wishes and gentle hugs. Judy

    • LUKITHIA EVANS says:

      My situation is similar to yours. I have tried everything to treat the insomnia because I know that if i could get more sleep the other symptoms would not be as bad as they are. I am praying for a cure and a miracle from God.

    • Adrienne Charkow says:

      I am 63 and have been dealing with fibro since 1980. I went to a pain management doctor years ago who told me to imagine putting the pain in a box and then making the box smaller and smaller in your mind. Works for mild discomfort, but as time goes on, more places are hurting. Sometimes I point to my nose and say that’s about the only thing that doesn’t hurt.

  2. Linda says:

    Yikes. I am going through this right now. I had extreme pain for two months until I had to go to the emergency room as I could not handle it anymore. I finally have the pain managed but for the past three weeks I have had laryngitis! I do not know what to do! The Doctor said I wore myself down from the pain for so long.
    Even with the best of attitudes it still can wear you down big tim

  3. Cindy S says:

    Why does Fibro make my stomach hurt? It feels like I have the flu.

    • Peggy Forbes says:


      My doctor told me the stomach is largest muscle in the body and therefore very suceptable to Fibro pain just like any other muscle in the body is. I had never related the two to each other before. I also have GERD but my most painful time of just ‘hurting’ was when my stomach was empty. I take medication (Zegrid) for the reflux and my stomach doesn’t hurt as often.


  4. vanessa benefield says:

    when you can’t get a good night sleep due to the pain that we have, then what?
    pain keeps you from getting any good sleep, especially when the pain is coming from all over the body.

    • Marie Nachman says:

      I’ve been sleeping with a memory foam topper on my bed for long enough to know it helps avoid pressure points. I’m taking delivery of a memory foam mattress tomorrow and can’t wait to see what it does. I like to sleep with a warm body, cool nose, so if it sleeps warm, all the better. I do a lot of prevention with sleeves, no bare shoulders, shawls etc and no drafts ever on bare skin.

  5. Inge Perreault says:

    I have experienced the fact that colds last twice as long as before I contracted Fibromyalgia.
    Something that has my physicians wondering is why the first two joints on my fingers on both hands as well as my toes are white, other pigment changes are beginning to show and it is not a matter of blood circulation since both hands and feet are warm, not cold. The digestive problems are getting bad too.

    • Picturerazzi says:

      When I’m in pain from my fibro, my right big toenail turns blue. Very blue. It’s so weird! The only thing I can think of is the nerve that connects my toe to my abdomen… :/

  6. kay says:

    Good information I will take the advice! I hate when it rains and when it is damp it’s the worst time for me.

  7. Bonnie says:

    I sure can sympathize with all of you ladies, I too have fibro but I take sedatives to help me sleep as well as other meds. I thought I was dying when I first got diagnosed, the pain was excurciating. All I can do is accept this, and do what I can manage each and everyday. Take care all of you.

  8. Donna says:

    The pass 3 weeks my arms above the elbow hurts so bad I cant put any weight on them (like to push myself up or even pick up a cup of coffee), Anyone else having this problem? I cant sleep because I can not lay on my side because of the pain in my arms. I am taking alot of meds that as some one else said I dont know if anyone of them is even helping me. Please help. I am tried all the time.

    • Peggy says:

      Hi Donna,

      I also have te pain in my upper arms and my pain management doc told me it was caused from arthritis in my neck that radiates down my arms. I had some injections in my neck and sure enough the pain stopped. Only problem is that it only lasted a few weeks. Now he wants to do another procedure with injections. Not sure if I want to go through that again……

      • Dianne says:

        I am suppose to get injections in 2 weeks in my neck. I am leary, I can’t do that every 2 weeks? Suppose to start therapy too, but I have been sick for about a month from the flu, to bronchitis, and sinus infections. Can’t seem to get well. Have more disc protrusions in neck, and a slipped disc in back. Dr. will not give pain meds. I can’t sleep at night and don’t know what to do…

        • Annie says:

          Chronic Pain & Fatigue, 17 yrs. Diagnosed~ FMS & Adrenal Fatigue, 2008. After trying different pain meds; Lyrica & Cymbalta. My FNP prescribed Tramadol (Ultram), ( 100 mg. morn. & eve). Takes edge off aches & pains shooting through limbs, burning, tingling sensations that make me feel like I’m going crazy!! Take Zoloft & Clonopin for insomnia. Find a new Doc! Try to Pace & Relax! Soft hugs!

    • Elaine says:

      Donna, the pain in my upper arms, shoulders and neck were the first symptoms I remember (although I am sure this goes back much longer than I am aware)…it never goes away and the pain is excruciating at night…I have to try to sleep on my back only but it does not stop the pain from waking me up every 15 to 20 minutes…the pain has now taken over my inner elbows and lower arms, wrists and hand

    • sandi says:

      I’m going through the exact same thing right now, I dont think my meds are strong enough lol…well laughing gets me through , The pain is starting to subside so have faith it’ll go away (most likely show up somewhere else) but my pain is in my shoulder jounts and elbow oint even washing my hair is a nightmare, This is my first time responding on here, I don’t know wanyone with fibro

    • Nechama says:

      I just went through the same thing. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of a rotator cuff inflammation. That could cause pain in the arm. Herniated discs in the neck also can cause that kind of pain.

    • barbara nascimben says:

      For a couple of years, if I was lying on my side on the couch, behind my partner, I could not get up using my arm. NO strength at all. Now I have been diagnosed and all these things are falling into place.

    • Larenda says:

      you may want to get your cervical spine checked i have the same thing ans when i had an mri of my cervical spine it showed bulging disk in the c-5/c-6 and c-6/c-7 nothing to do about it right now because i don’t have insurance. i just called around and got ccash prices for tthe mri and ask my pain management dotor to write the order for it.

    • Kathy says:

      Me too Donna. That’s why I can’t sleep. Can’t lay on my arms

  9. Kathryn says:

    I always cope much better after a good night’s sleep. Pain is always easier to cope with and fatigue is not as bad. Get a good local doctor who can help with managing your sleep and pain symptoms. Relaxation and meditation exercises can also be very helpful.

  10. Vicki says:

    I’ve had fibro for 10+ yrs.My “best friend” is memory foam.Not talking about thin stuff that looks like egg crate.Memory foam is thick but not too heavy to carry.Push your finger into it, it gradually returns to its original form. If I travel I take it w/ me.Took it in a suitcase on a cruise to Cozemel.It can be squished to fit most any suitcase/compartment.I can’t sleep w/out it.

    • Jamie says:

      Vicki I totally agree on the memory foam recommendation! I switched to memory foam right after I was diagnosed in 2009 & WOW what a difference. Nighttime leg & hip pain vanished almost immediately. You can find relatively inexpensive options at warehouse club type stores.

  11. Maureen says:

    My PA is really good at listening to my dilemmas. I haven’t been able to make it thru a day without extensive fatigue and long naps; it has been ongoing for years. So I have recently been put on Ritalin after all other avenues were exhausted. I now sleep better (only up once per night) than I have in ages, PLUS I am more focused and awake during the day! It has been a godsend!

  12. Karen says:

    @Donna, I have had fibro for most of my life. I am now 63 and since January of this year I have had such pain in my elbows and arms that at times I want to scream and cry. My doctor has put me on Temazepam at night to help me get sleep – restful sleep. I now sleep 71/2 to 8 hours a night and it has lessened but not taken away all of the pain. Talk to your doctor.

  13. Donna H says:

    I was diagnosed at age 25. I am now 53. I have gone through many different cycles of pain. This is what helps me; I take several supplements mainly magnesium. Since I have been gluten free my IBS gut issues have ended & my skin is calmer. I do not consume any caffeine. I take one .5 ml Xanax at bedtime only. I see a massage therapist who specializes in mio-fascial release. Be as healthy as you can

    • kalli11 says:

      I found this works too, I take 5 mg ambien, I also see a massage therapist 2x a month, and take magnesium as well as have magnesium gel for my calves and my bulging disc/bone spur/pinched nerve on my L2. I’ve taken steriods, had physical therapy twice, and been misdiagnosed many times but I’m able to move, which for a few months was a dream because I could barely walk.

  14. bluewhippet says:

    I am most moved to talk by Donna’s plea. I too have a lot of pain in my arms above my elbows and on my elbows (and knees). Sleeping on my back and resting these areas despite the inconvenience is the only thing that works for me. I swallow a chemist shop every day until I gag. Next stop is morphine which I would find very difficult. GB and good luck Donna.

  15. Pat G says:

    I don’t think my immune system can get any worse. I had hiatal surgery repair and gallbladder removal in March and am still recovering. Very hard to get through the work day. In addition to that I am now battling whooping cough! Can’t wait to see what I get next. I do not take meds for pain as I don’t feel as if they help enough. Sleep? Whats that? I have tried everything.

  16. julie says:

    I supplemented my naturally occurring endocannabinoid system with cannabinioids. I have not taken a pain pill or sleeping pill in over 2 years. Try CANNABIS!!!

  17. K. says:

    Get Thee to a Sleep Clinic.

  18. Rosanne Duffy says:

    Can butterfly rash be caused by fibromyalgia?

    • Suzanne Field says:

      I had butterfly rash for years. My symptoms and pain worsened so doctor tested my ANA. It was elevated. Inflammation. He then sent it away to further pinpoint and diagnos. It came back Sjogren’s disease. This, Lupus and several arthritises can go hand in hand with Fibro. My immune system was compromised for too long, resulting in auto-immune disease. Changing you diet does wonders!!

  19. Larenda says:

    fibro affects every aspect and organ of your body since it affects all nerves. i recommend elavil for getting sleep at night . muscle relaxers are a must and antinflamatory seems to help some and i am on pain med all docs i have been to referred me to pain management. i am sick right now with a cold hat i think has now turned to pneumonia.

  20. Diane says:

    I was diagnosed 7 years ago. It has been like a 3 ring circus with Drs. and medications. I was in such a fog from the meds I weaned myself off of them. I had food allergins from many foods. It really made a difference in my pain. I also have a anti anxious drop that works for sleeping etc. I am taking Vitamin C,B,D it has really helped me. Naturalpathic is the way to go! Find one and get tested!

  21. stephanie says:

    I have suffered with Fibromyalgia and Lupus for over 15 years. I have been on many medicines, and everything seemed to cause bad symptoms. I am not taking any meds now, just got tired of the side effects. Does anyone know any natural remedies that have helped. My major problems right now are whole body pain, overwhelming fatigue, extremely itchy skin, insomnia. Thanks for any recommendations.

  22. Bev4Hope says:

    I’ve had fibro for 12 years now, and I’ve really been able to reduce the number of meds I take. I’m down to Cymbalta (60mg once a day), Trazadone (300mg at bedtime), and Xanax (1mg in the morning, 1mg after lunch, 1 mg before dinner and 2mg at bedtime). The pain is better, and my sleep has improved. I do hang on to colds/flu/etc. longer than most folks.

  23. Tina Peterson says:

    I was diagnosed over 14 years ago and finally broke down and got on pain meds about 6 years ago (or so) – prior to that I was able to treat it naturally (vitamins, supplements and protein drinks & whole food diet). Now I take only what I have to – not on a regular basis – and can increase my meds if I’m having a really rough time – sleep? I use a heated blanket & that really helps me relax!

  24. Marlene Heytvelt says:

    For those with upper arm pain – I have had this for years and I am getting help for it now. I go to a specialized Physical Therapist who does myofascial pain therapy. Today, she said that the Fibro trigger points were glued to the fascia which is full of deep pain. She had to separate the areas and then work on the trigger pts. and the fascia separately. She worked on the shoulder also.

  25. marce says:

    I have been diagnosed with fibro for about 5 years now….worst thing is not being able to sleep to sleeping all the time…I am always exhausted (also have sleep) I have no energy and am surviving on herbal life protein/meal replacement shakes and a small meal once in a awhile because I am just too fatigued to make meals…

  26. Joan Maynard says:

    Sometimes my fingernails even hurt, one of the first areas from way back in 1980! I keep reading everyday about how much sleep we need and all the meds there are to take but I have yet to read how we feel after sleep/rest. I don’t know about you ladies but MY problem is I don’t feel any better!!! Am I right, I want to feel better after all these meds.

  27. Inge Perreault says:

    Hi fellow sufferers of Fibro-fog, constant pain and fatigue. I share all your woes, even my fingernails hurt sometimes, however there is one item I want to share with you. I am also “lucky” enough to suffer from sleep apnea, so I sleep with a CPAP machine and thus I get good nights of sleep. Without the CPAP machine I can’t sleep either, check into it.

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