Getting a Sleep Study with Fibromyalgia or CFS

What to Expect and What Questions to Ask

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Do you need a sleep study for fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS)? Sleep disorders frequently come along with these conditions, and studies have shown that poor sleep correlates to more severe symptoms, especially FMS pain. Many doctors recommend a sleep study for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome patients.

If you think you have a sleep disorder (or more than one), you should talk with your doctor about your symptoms. He may request that you undergo a sleep study so an expert can examine your sleep patterns and give you a diagnosis.

What is a Sleep Study?

A sleep study is performed to diagnose sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome (RLS). It requires you to sleep at a special lab with electrodes attached to you that monitor your brain waves, breathing, and movement. A technician watches the input from the electrodes and observes you via a camera.

Your doctor may want you to undergo a sleep study if you have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently, or have symptoms of sleep apnea, RLS, or another sleep disorder.

Questions to Ask Before Your Sleep Study

As with everything, those of us with FMS and ME/CFS have to think about some extra things before going in for a sleep study. Here are some suggested questions you may want to ask before you go in:

  • Does the facility have showers? Are bathrooms private?
    • If the bathroom is public, you may want to wash your face, brush your teeth, etc. before arriving for the study.​
  • Do rooms have televisions? Is it OK to bring a book?
    • If you usually watch TV or read to help you fall asleep, doing so might help you relax in this new environment.​
  • Can you bring your own bedding?
    • Expect hospital-grade bedding, complete with scratchy sheets and wimpy blankets. If you're like me, those sheets are like sand paper!​
  • What kind of adhesive do they use?
    • This one's important if you're allergic or sensitive to medical tapes or glues, which they use to attach electrodes to several parts of your body.

What to Expect During Your Sleep Study

You'll likely be asked to check in late in the evening, close to when most people go to bed. After taking you to your room and talking about your symptoms and medical history, a technician will start attaching your electrodes. Expect to have them on your head and face, chest, abdomen, and legs (to check for movement disorders such as RLS and periodic limb movement disorder.)

All of these electrodes will likely be connected to each other with thin cables, and you may need to wear bands around your chest and abdomen for monitoring of your breathing.

After that preparation is done, you'll go to bed. A surveillance camera will be pointed at you, and your brain waves and other information will be monitored from another room.

In the morning, you'll be awakened and will likely have time to shower before meeting with a doctor to go over the results.

While a sleep study isn't exactly comfortable (who wants to be watched while sleeping, or have long cords attached to them?), it's only one night, and it's something that could really help you feel better and be more functional. Don't be put off by fears of discomfort, and focus on the potential benefit the sleep study information could have on treating your sleep problems.

What to Pack for Your Sleep Study

In addition to a toothbrush, pajamas and a change of clothes, you may want to bring several things to help you get through the night with the least discomfort possible:

  • At least one pillow, and more if you use several; anything else that helps you be comfortable at night​
  • All medications you normally take before bed and any other medications you might need. If you regularly have musculoskeletal pain, take pain rubs or patches -- the bed may not be terribly comfortable.​
  • Bedroom slippers or socks, in case you need to get up in the middle of the night​
  • Something to eat for breakfast, as well as any medications you may take in the morning. The facility may provide coffee or juice, but don't expect anything else.​
  • Reading materials or something to do, in case you have a long wait before seeing the doctor.

Sleep is a foundation of good health. A sleep study can be a valuable tool for identifying any treatments that may help you improve your sleep. Once you're resting better, you could very well see your symptoms improve.