Hello dear friends!
I’ve always thought that one of the cruelest things about chronic fatigue syndrome was the sleep disturbances that came along with it. I mean, really? I’m exhausted, brain-fried, and achy, and all I want is to fall into a long deep slumber, and that’s exactly what this illness prevents me from doing! Ever since getting sick over 6 years ago, I’ve struggled to get a good night’s rest, and I know that it’s one of the most important factors in how I feel every day and my overall healing trajectory. And so sleep has become a serious passion (okay, maybe obsession) of mine, and I’m always on a quest for ways to improve upon my zzz’s.
The thing is, it’s not just those of us with CFS who are struggling with sleep every night. It’s estimated that almost 50% of Americans have some form of sleep dysfunction; occasional or chronic insomnia, trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. Stress, overstimulation from our environments, and pain can keep you from getting the nourishing rest your body and brain need. So no matter if you are dealing with a chronic disease, severe pain, an overactive mind, or just can’t seem to get into a good nightly routine, this post is for you!
Over the years, I’ve gathered a handful of techniques that have worked for me. Implementing them regularly has helped me get deeper and more refreshing sleep, which has kept my symptoms under better control and helped me lead a somewhat normal life. So, without further ado, here are my top 7 tips for sleep:
1. Black it and block it
There was a time where I needed some kind of light on in order to sleep, when I was extremely sick and dizzy. But moving forward from that, I realized that I slept more soundly in a dark room. And I mean, really dark. Not just shut the cheap mini-blinds kind of dark. I invested in thick, thermal drapes that completely covered my windows, made sure electronic lights were masked, and even grabbed a pair of soft cotton shorts that I used to cover my eyes when even the tiniest amount of morning light would peek through.
Our brains are finely tuned to be awake when it’s light, so for the maximal restorative effect, block out as much light as you can in your sleeping space. If you can tolerate a sleep mask, go for it. Otherwise, look into thick drapes, a roller shade, or a DIY window covering. Also take a look around at electronic lights- clocks, speakers, sound machines, aquariums, chargers, etc…these little bits of bright, artificial light can mess up your sleep too. And while we’re on the subject…
2. Cut the blue light
Perhaps you’ve read in the news or elsewhere that our electronic habits are messing with our sleep, because of the blue wavelengths of light they emit. In fact, I wrote an entire blog about it a while back, I think it’s that important. The thing is, that blue light that comes from your smart phone, your tablet, your TV, and your e-reader is telling your brain to halt the melatonin production. And this valuable hormone is crucial for getting to sleep and staying on a healthy sleep schedule.
So, if you’re able, power down your electronics at least one hour before bedtime. And if you’re hooked to your Kindle like I am, invest in some amber-colored goggles or a blue-blocking film for your screen. Give yourself at least a few days to experiment with this, and give your brain time to readjust its melatonin levels. Trust me, it'll be worth it when you wake up rested!
3. Halt the stimulants
Confession: I love coffee. Love the smell, love the taste, love the way it fits into my mornings perfectly and gives me a boost to get my work done. But I haven’t had a sip of it in months! Why? Because it seriously messes with my sleeping. Even a half-caf drink leaves me awake for several hours past my usual bedtime. I’ve always been sensitive to caffeine, but it’s gotten more apparent as I’ve changed my diet and cleaned things up even more. So for now, I’m going sans coffee in the mornings to give my body a fighting chance at a solid night’s sleep.
If you are a heavy caffeine user (or tea, or god forbid, energy drinks), try cutting back a little bit for a week or so and seeing how you sleep differently. Or if you’re brave, go for a full caffeine detox for 2-3 weeks. Regardless, it’s always good to stop taking in any stimulants by mid-afternoon. These compounds stay in your system for a long time, so don’t assume that your morning cup will be flushed out by the evening.
4. Go herbal
Mother Nature has some pretty badass tools to help you calm down your anxious brain, relax your painful muscles, and drift into a peaceful slumber. If you haven’t ever tried an herbal sleep formula, it’s always great to chat with a certified herbalist and make sure the herbs won’t interact with any other meds that you are taking. Plants like valerian, hops, passionflower, skullcap, chamomile, and poppy can help with insomnia and can be taken either occasionally or longer term. If you have a chronic issue with stress and sleep, implementing so-called “adaptogenic” herbs can be a life-changing decision. These would include things like ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, and eleuthero and are great at shifting your physiological systems to a state of more calm and clarity.
Personally, I’m working on an herbal tincture that has several of these ingredients in it, and I can’t wait to try it out. And in the meantime, I do take both valerian and chamomile at bedtime (in capsules), along with a hot cup of Yogi tea when the weather starts getting cool...which if you're in Colorado right now, seems like it's never going to happen!
5. Do some yoga
I recently wrote a guest blog post over at BuddhiBox about my three favorite yoga poses to help you catch some zzz’s, and I hope you go over and check it out. But in the meantime, let me just say how amazingly helpful how a few minutes of yoga can be in the quest to get better sleep. I do a lot of sitting during the day, working mostly as a writer, so any chance I get to move my body is great in helping me feel better. So whether you’re at a desk all day and are stiff and sore, or you’re out and about running around, yoga can help you find your center at the end of the night.
Most of the time, I flow through a few of these poses:
· Standing forward fold
· Child’s pose
· Legs up the wall
· Reclined bound angle pose
· Seated forward fold
· Reclined hero pose
· Supported bridge pose
So tonight, before getting into bed, try a few of these poses to shake off the day, stretch out your muscles, and prepare for a more relaxed sleep!
6. Take a timeout
If you’re like most people, you wake up to your smartphone and you go to sleep with it right next to you. The first and last things you see every day are probably your social media feeds, or your favorite websites. I will be the first to admit that I’ve spent one too many nights on Instagram, as well as gotten caught in the string of emails as soon as my eyes opened. Our Internet age of über-connectedness has its benefits, but sadly, better sleep is not one of them. All that overstimulation, not to mention the FOMO (“fear of missing out”) that many of us feel, can keep you awake well into the wee hours.
Treat your brain to a little technology break before bed. Set aside 15, 30, or 60 minutes where you are “unplugged” from the world, where you aren’t feeling the pull of tweets and texts and status updates. Making space for quiet, for reflection, for connection with your loved ones (the ones in front of you, not on the computer), and for winding down can save your nervous system, and potentially your marriage (hint, hint). So put that phone on silent, or airplane mode, or better yet, turn it off completely and see how it feels.
7. Drink more water
Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this one a million times by now, right? Everyone from your mom to your gym coach wants to remind you that water is good for you and that you should be aiming for 8 clean, fresh glasses a day. The thing is, most of us are chronically dehydrated and don’t even know it- we’re foggy, tired, cranky, in pain, and always seem to be hungry or craving junk food. Well, adding some water to your day can greatly improve all of these things. I admit, I’m kind of a hydration freak- you can ask anyone- and I carry around a bottle with me everywhere and get anxious if I don’t have one.
When you drink more water, you allow your body to function more smoothly. You can help level out your hormones, boost your immunity, improve your digestion, and smooth out your frazzled nerves. Plus, all that water leaves less room for things like soda, juice, and energy drinks, and that’s a win-win for everyone. Just a tip though- taper down your hydration in the couple of hours before bed, otherwise, you’ll be making quite a few visits to the bathroom when you should be visiting dreamland!
Well okay friends, this list should give you plenty to get started on. Do you have any tips or tricks for better sleep that you would add to this list?
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~