Fibromyalgia & sleep

Fibromyalgia leaves its sufferers with chronic pain that can make it hard to get a good nights sleep. Nancy Hamilton, associate professor of psychology, is working to find out if the malady is in fact a sleep disorder that leads to pain. Watch video »

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Hamilton takes new approach to fibromyalgia research

Fibromyalgia leaves its sufferers with chronic pain that can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Nancy Hamilton is working to find out if the malady is in fact a sleep disorder that leads to pain.

In a new KU YouTube video, Hamilton, associate professor of psychology, discusses fibromyalgia, its symptoms, who suffers from it most, her research into the links between sleep, pain and cognitive function as well as the importance of collaboration in research.

Fibromyalgia, also known as FM, affects about 1 percent to 5 percent of the population, and the majority of people who suffer from it are women. Unlike most pain conditions, however, it is not clear why individuals with fibromyalgia should have pain.

“Think about when you have a cold or the flu. How tired, achy and fatigued you feel,” Hamilton said. “That’s the way people with FM feel all the time.”

While sufferers have pain, nearly all report that they also have abnormal sleep. Hamilton’s research group began to look into sleep’s role in the disorder.

“We look at FM as more of a sleep disorder than a pain disorder,” she said. “That’s not to say that people with FM don’t have pain. They do, and it’s real pain. What we think is that it’s the sleep problems that are causing the pain."

Hamilton’s group has two ongoing research projects that examine sleep and its role in fibromyalgia. One examines patients’ sleep from day to day and how it affects their cognitive function. They are also working to find out if they are able to correct sleep problems, if fibromyalgia sufferers can begin to feel better.

Hamilton, who has been at KU since 2004, said she was drawn to the university because of its active health psychology program and its collaborative nature. When researching a medical condition such as fibromyalgia, it’s vital to bring experts of various fields to the table. She regularly works with Ruth Ann Atchley, associate professor of psychology; and Susanne Stephens and Paul Lapsis, KU Medical Center professors, in her clinical sleep studies with fibromyalgia patients.

“Health psychology is unique among the psychological disciplines in the sense that it really requires that we be able to collaborate with medical professionals,” Hamilton said. “People who are trained in other areas of science and medicine bring a set of skills to the table that I don’t have, and I think that’s probably one of the most exciting things about working in research.”

Through this collaborative nature, Hamilton and her colleagues hope to help fibromyalgia sufferers understand why they have the pain and symptoms they do, and to help them feel significantly better.

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