This week is National Sleep Awareness Month and never before have I been more aware of sleep…… or lack of it.
Fibromyalgia, amongst all the other stuff, can and often does cause sleep disturbances. This can range from not getting enough good quality sleep, right through to full on insomnia. Whatever the disturbance, it inhibits your ability to perform well, concentrate and sometimes even just function. It can also exacerbate the other symptoms caused by the F word.
Insomnia is lonely, while the rest of the world is sleeping, there you are, all alone, with every thought possible running through your brain. Of course, it is dark, but sometimes your thoughts are darker. You can’t close your eyes, and when you do it actually hurts more than keeping them open. You bargain with yourself, you look at the clock. Somewhere around midnight you tell yourself that it is ok because you can still get 6 or 7 hours sleep at that point if you could only fall asleep. You beg, you ignore, you meditate. Then you get up, sneaking around the house so you don’t wake anybody else up, only to find you don’t actually have the energy to read or do anything quiet. Actually there isn’t anything to do at that time. You avoid the TV and your smartphone because you read somewhere that this is bad and you don’t want to become more wired than you already are. So you go back to bed, and repeat. Then at some point close to the morning you finally fall to sleep. Shortly after, the morning fully arrives and suddenly you don’t have insomnia anymore and can’t even get up (but of course you do). You get to a point where you start dreading going to bed the next night because you know you will do the same thing over and over.
For me, my sleep disturbances started long before my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Looking back it probably started around a year ago at least. I didn’t notice at the time because I wasn’t actually waking up, but found it increasingly harder to wake up in the mornings. The snooze button became a very good friend of mine, and I found myself turning into someone who enjoyed their journey to work into one that ran for their train looking dishevelled. I would no longer nearly miss my stop because I was engrossed in a good book or a podcast but more missing my stop because I would fall to sleep, with dribble down my chin and only wake up with the klaxon of the doors closing. I felt increasingly more tired and I also looked terrible. At the time I blamed it on training for the marathon and told myself that I was ‘sleeping heavy’, and that this was a good thing. Luckily once I was at work and had shovelled some breakfast down my throat (usually 2 hours after rolling out of bed onto the floor), my headache would shift, and I would perk up enough to get on with my day as usual with no ill effect and my care was safe.
Fast forward to the end of November 2016, just after I was resigned to take some time off work, not actually knowing what on earth was wrong with me. I suddenly found that sleep evaded me altogether. I would go to bed absolutely exhausted, to the point of tears sometimes, and then just lay there. For hours. I would finally fall asleep somewhere around 4am only to find myself tossing and turning, in and out of sleep for about 2-3 hours. There isn’t much more that is as frustrating as being tired to the point of wanting to collapse and then not being able to sleep. Sometimes it would be my pain that would keep me awake, and then sometimes it would be my thoughts. Other times it would be nothing at all.
At the time, just to get through the days, I had no choice but to remedy this by napping in the afternoons, just to give me enough energy to be an ok version of a mother to my children, and to be able to keep them alive. After 6 weeks (and I know this is no time at all, and that some people battle insomnia for years) I figured this routine was not doing my nighttime sleep any good at all and so decided to power through my days so that I would hopefully stand a chance of getting some sleep. Sadly this didn’t work either!
The GP offered me some sleeping tablets (thanks), and I have to admit I was almost tempted, but a little voice inside of me knew that this was not the answer. I had to find out what was contributing to the insomnia and remedy that first.
My husband brought me a book by Nick Littlehales, simply titled SLEEP. Armed with this little sleep bible and lots of research of my own I formulated a plan to enable me to try and reverse the cycle of insomnia that would at least allow me to get some sleep each night. By this point I would have been happy to even be able to get 2 hours of undisturbed sleep. The techniques I’ve employed are tough, and still require an awful lot of willpower. They don’t leave much time for an evening of television, nor socialising, but I’m working on factoring all of this in really soon.
I’m pleased to say that although my sleep is today very far from perfect it is slowly moving in the right direction. I do actually get some sleep most nights, but it is still of poor quality and I wake up all the time! Grrrrr.
I dearly want to share with you my sleep hygiene techniques, but will save these for another day. For now, as you tuck yourself into to bed tonight and dream sweet dreams, please say a prayer for those who won’t sleep. If you tuck yourself into bed and don’t sleep, please remember at some point I will be awake too, you are not alone, and I too will be making bargains with the devil in exchange for some shut eye.