Theodore Fields, MD, an attending physician in rheumatology at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, says data going back for years suggests that sleep and fibromyalgia are tightly connected. He believes restless leg syndrome could be a factor in a subset of people with fibromyalgia.

“It makes sense to me that any cause of insomnia can be related to fibromyalgia, which has been clearly shown to be related to lack of sleep. Periodic leg movements during sleep have been previously associated with fibromyalgia, and the results of this study are not unexpected,” Dr. Fields says.

He points out that the study used a self-administered questionnaire, which can be less accurate than a personal interview. He also says medications were not controlled for and researchers did not gather information on other medical issues or sleep problems, but he still believes the conclusion could be useful for patients and physicians.

“Restless leg syndrome is a condition that physicians may not routinely ask about, so this information may make it more likely they will begin to query patients about it.  Since it’s treatable, that’s an advantage for patients,” Dr. Fields says.

People with fibromyalgia who have leg discomfort that keeps them awake at night should mention it to their doctor to have it assessed and dealt with, says Dr. Watson.

“It’s reasonable to think that more continuous, longer, better quality sleep would have a positive impact on fibromyalgia, as it does on many medical disorders,” he says.