Getting a Good Night Sleep With a Chronic Illness
Everyone needs sleep, regardless of whether you have a chronic illness, a mental illness, or are a typically healthy person.
Sleep is when our body heals and restores itself. Sleep also plays a critical role in our immune system, as well as our brain's ability to learn and retain information. In other words, sleep is really, really important.
It probably goes without saying that if you already have an illness, physical or mental, sleep becomes even more important than it is for the average person. Sadly though, it is often the chronically ill that have the hardest time getting a good night's sleep.
Fibromyalgia, for instance, is commonly linked to insomnia. Doctors have a hard time telling which caused which, did fibro cause sleep disturbances, or did a sleep disorder cause the chronic pain and brain fog associated with fibromyalgia?
I don’t know the answer to the above question, but I can tell you I have had trouble falling asleep for as long as I can remember. I’m talking way back, when I was still in crib. I’m talking back when I was 4 years old and would sneak out of bed and silently play with my toys to the glow of my teddy bear nightlight, cause I just couldn’t go to sleep!
There were nights that I couldn’t sleep because I had horrible, all consuming pains in my legs. But even on nights when I wasn’t in pain, I still had trouble falling asleep, it was like my brain just wouldn’t shut off.
Years and years passed and I was still having trouble sleeping. Not getting enough sleep affected everything. I felt more pain. I felt more anxious. I felt more depressed. I had no energy to do anything. I had little patience and tolerance. Something needed to change.
I had already figured out that I have to have a cut off point for caffeine, as well as a limit to my caffeine intake. Monitoring how much caffeine I had in a day helped me to sleep better, but it still wasn’t enough on it’s own.
In the past month I have taken more serious steps to get control of my sleep schedule, or at least to get a measure of control. I have already seen the benefits of this and wanted to share some of things that have helped me.
Wake up at the same time every day. Are you the type that wakes up only when you have to, sleeping in every chance you get? Yeah, same here. But if you really want to get yourself on a better sleep schedule that will have to change.
Pick a time to wake up in the mornings. Your schedule varies and you don’t need to wake up the same every day? Doesn’t matter, pick a time to get up most days of the week. If there is one or two days that your wake up time is a little different, okay but try to keep as close to the set time as possible. For example: you wake up at 6:00 Monday-Friday, try not to sleep later than 6:30 Saturday and Sunday.
Go to sleep at the same time every day. Now that you know what time you’re waking up, you need to figure out what time you need to go to sleep. Some say everyone needs 8 hours sleep, other say it varies from person to person. You have to figure out how much sleep you need for optimal functioning.
Let’s just say you need 7 hours sleep, if you are waking up at 6:00, that means you need to go to sleep by 11:00. But if you are like me and do not fall asleep the second you lay down, you may need to go to bed earlier, giving yourself time to fall asleep and get the needed amount of sleep.
If you find you need to go to sleep an hour or more before you normally do, you will likely not be able to make that change in one night. Try going to bed tonight 15 minutes earlier, the next night 15 minutes earlier than that, and so on.
Of course life happens and you may not always be able to go to bed at the same time, just try to stick to the set time as much as possible.
Set a time to wind down in the evening. If you are like me and feel more awake and energized in the evenings and at night, it can be difficult to just suddenly go to bed and try to sleep. Your mind is still alert and reeling. To help prepare your mind for sleep pick a time earlier in the evening to start winding down or relaxing.
For me I start between 8:00-8:30. I help the kids get ready for bed, and we read a story or two as a family. Once they get in bed I do something I find relaxing;
Journal about my day
Watch a little TV, but nothing too stimulating, I have learned the hard way watching exciting, but anxiety inducing shows late at night is not conducive to a good night sleep
Do some breathing exercises
Do a wordsearch
Aromatherapy. When you have an illness like fibromyalgia and have difficulty getting restful sleep, aromatherapy may help your brain get to the deep sleep and REM stage of sleep. Once it’s time to wind down I put some lavender essential oil in our essential oil diffuser. The diffuser I use can be found here.
I also make a simple linen spray to spray on my pillow when I ready to get in bed, and will even spray a little on myself. I found a DIY linen spray here.
Mix 2 teaspoons of witch hazel with 10 drops of lavender oil
Add 2 oz. of water and lavender oil mix into a small glass spray bottle
Shake it before each use
Using lavender oil and epsom salt in the bath is also a great way to relax and get your mind and body ready for a good night sleep.
Get things ready for the next day. Frequently, the thoughts running through my mind when I’m trying to sleep, involve what needs to happen the next day. That is why I get myself set up for the next day so that I don’t need to think about it at night.
I make a list, writing down all the things that I need to do, plan to do, and want to do. Even little things like setting out what I want to wear and planning what I want to eat for breakfast and lunch, allows me to not worry about it once my head hits the pillow.
Read. I have found it’s best for me to get into bed about 1 hour before I want to be asleep. I spend a portion of that time reading. There is something about reading an interesting but calming book that helps me wind down even more and drift off to sleep quicker. As much as I enjoy an exciting dystopian novel or a thrilling mystery, I have learned reading those before bed is not a good idea.
I love to borrow eBooks through my local library, or I find inexpensive second hand books from 2nd and Charles or Goodwill.
White noise. For many people having white noise on helps them to fall asleep faster. I like the sounds of water and find it calming. I use a white noise app on my phone to play them, the app has a timer so that it’s not playing all night.
A little natural help. Last but certainly not least, I have been taking a natural supplement called Somnapure. According to their website, it helps you fall asleep faster, have a better quality of sleep, and helps you to wake up feeling refreshed. All while being non-habit forming and without making you groggy in the morning.
It was suggested to me to try taking two a night, 30 minutes before bed, for about a week. I then went to one a night for another week, and I am now taking them every other night.
After putting all of these steps into action, it has been amazing to me the difference I feel when I get up in the morning and throughout the day. I have not been napping, I have had much more energy, and I have felt better. All of this is a very, very big deal for me!
As always, I know everyone is different, but these are the things that have been helping me. Also, it is best to consult your doctor before trying new supplements.