Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #8 – Post Sleep Routines

In the last instalment of The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles we looked at how pre sleep routines can help you to better drift off to the land of nod without too much reliance on the sandman, but have you ever thought about your post sleep routines?

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If you are anything like I was at the beginning of the year, your phone will wake you up with its pre set alarm, and through bleary eyes you will take at look at any notifications that have come through while you have been sleeping (or attempting to sleep). One of them is bound to excite you and warrant a closer look by logging into your phones screen and seeing what is happening either on social media or in the news. Occasionally this may lead to happiness but more often than not it leads to a buzz of activity in your brain leaving you feeling over excited, stressed, or worried. You may find yourself getting caught up in what you see and before you know it you haven’t got time to have a nice long shower or even worse, to eat breakfast.

I’ve learnt that that is how I used to be, and I now shudder at how tied I used to be to checking my phone as soon as I awoke. I used to wake up and be immediately sucked into life outside of what I could control, or even thing I didn’t need to know first thing in the morning. My attention needed to be on getting myself up and ready for the day, my children, and my wellbeing.

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I now look at waking up as ‘warming up’, getting myself ready for the workout of a day I have ahead. I guess my post sleep routines are my cool down, from the workout of a day I’ve had. By warming up to my day I am able to gentle move my body from a sleep state to a fully alert and awake state, and this helps me to tackle my day, head on, positively. I generally allow myself at least an hour for this, and this hour needs to be before I am responsible for anything or anyone. So I’m generally up and about before my children wake up at 7 for at least an hour.

Stay away from the light!

It’s not just about being awake for an hour before the kids get up. It about what I do with that hour thats important. Like I’ve already said, being awake and sitting on my phone for an hour is not the best start to the day.

Using a phone, or any technology, in that first hour of waking up, does not allow me to process my thoughts very well. My brain is not thinking 100% clearly or rationally, and therefore staying away from anything that might warrant a negative response or that might worry me is generally the best thing for me. It’s a bit like responding to a text when you are blind drunk. I know I certainly feel drunk when I’ve just woken up! Rarely do I jump out of bed full of the joys of spring (see this post as to why!).

Eat Breakfast

There’s a reason why they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day…. because it just is! If your evening meal was at 7pm and you wake up at 7am, then your body has literally gone 12hours without food. You need to refuel. Without eating breakfast you simply will not have to energy to start your day off positively. You’ll likely make bad food choices throughout the day, drink more caffeine than you actually need, and this could have a negative impact on your sleep the next night. So ALWAYS eat breakfast. If you find eating breakfast difficult then don’t make it the first thing you do when you wake up, but rather leave it towards the end of your post sleep routine. Keep it small, maybe a light yoghurt, a smoothie, or a slice of toast. Once you start doing it you will gradually have a bigger appetite on waking and be able to plump for bigger and more energising breakfasts as time goes by. If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that breakfast is by far my favourite meal of the day, and breakfast generally doesn’t have many rules!

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Exercise

I exercise pretty much every day as part of my post sleep routine, usually yoga, to wake up my body gently, and to stretch out all those fibromyalgia aches and pains. I usually exercise before breakfast, but after I’ve had a drink. Exercise in the daylight is all the better if you can manage it (see this post for the benefits of daylight on sleep and wellbeing). I generally do my yoga in my bedroom where the sun shines in, in the morning, but only because I’m too embarrassed to do my yoga in the communal garden! But if you are a confident yogi, do it on the grass! I also go for a walk every morning, whether it be taking the kids to school or walking to work.

Challenge your brain….. gently

My engagement with the world usually begins right at the end of my post sleep routine. I will put on the radio to listen to the days news (after my breakfast, exercise and shower when I am fully awake and won’t get to drunkily emosh about it), or maybe listen to a podcast on my way to work. Anything to get the brain thinking. I also make sure that I make my bed, wash up the breakfast things, and get the girls things ready for school (with mixed success…. I usually forget something!).

So in short my morning generally looks like this….

  • Wake up at 6am
  • Have a cup of herbal tea and practise mindfulness (mindfulness is a great way to awaken your senses to the day!)
  • Yoga
  • Shower, dress, hair, make up
  • Breakfast with the kids
  • Wash up breakfast things while kids get themselves ready for school, listen to the radio or a podcast
  • Get things together for work/school
  • Walk children to school
  • Catch train to work, USE PHONE!!!
  • Walk to work from train station, listen to music

By the time I have done all of the above it already feels like I have done a lot with my day and made the most of my time, My day is gentle, my morning relaxed and usually stress free, which gets me off to a great start. I generally feel able to tackle anything life throws at me in a calm and collected way, and feel like an all round hero ๐Ÿ™‚

So thats it! Do you have any post sleep routines that your use that you would like to share? If so then as always I would love to hear from you, either on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! Please also feel free to comment below!

Toodle Pip!

Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #7 – Pre sleep routines

What is your pre sleep routine? Answering all those emails you didn’t get time to answer at work today? Watching the TV until you fall asleep on the sofa and then wake up in the small hours, trying to work out what that nonsense is that’s now on air? Getting in from work late and stumbling immediately into bed? If it is any of these things, then you should probably re think how you are preparing your body for sleep.


Getting a good nights sleep is essential if you are going to manage your fibromyalgia as best as you can. The first step to a good nights sleep is making sure that you have a quiet, dark, cool environment to sleep in, free of distraction and things that can potentially wake you. I wrote a post about this in March and I thoroughly recommend you read it before carrying on with this post ๐Ÿ™‚ You can find the post here.

Once your environment is sleep friendly, you can then move on to what you do before you go to bed. Everybody’s pre sleep routine is different, but there are some basic things that I definitely recommend incorporating into your routine, and I’d like to share with you what I do. Also, when you start your routine is up to you but I recommend about 60-90 minutes before you plan to drift away to the land of nod. Also the time you will start your routine will be different each night, as you may have been for drinks with friends, or there maybe that final episode of your favourite TV programme that you just have to watch.

The first thing I do in my pre sleep routine is move myself away from blue light, which we have already discussed the pro’s and con’s of in a previous post. The reason for this is that the closer to sleep time I use blue light, generally the longer it takes me to switch off and drift off to sleep. It’s not just the blue light per se, but also the extra stimulation it can bring with it, such as bad news of an incident somewhere, or that email that comes in right before I need to go to sleep that I am thinking about and cannot possibly leave until morning to answer (and then find myself waiting for a reply that doesn’t come!). The easiest way around this is to simply ‘switch off’ which includes TV, computers and mobile phones. This way I have a good 60-90 minutes to process the last piece of information I had while using blue light and hopefully I will be at peace with whatever this is, which means I will find it much easier to go to sleep.

Equally, on the subject of blue light, I also start to shut out daylight which is a big source of blue light, to tell my body that it is time to start winding down. We have heavy lined curtains in every room in our flat so this is easy. We then tend to do things by candle lights or by dimmer light, to get the melatonin flowing, and to make the mind and body feel sleepy. Also, tooth brushing by candlelight is far more romantic than under the harsh light in the bathroom!

The beginning of my bedtime routine is also the time I am thinking about having m last caffeinated drink, if I am going to have one (which is hardly every these days). I don’t want that late cup of tea to keep me awake.

Next I move onto thinking about what I have on the next day. If I am working I generally try to sort out my lunch (which I’ve been terrible at recently) as well as getting the kids bags packed for school and uniforms ready. Do not underestimate the difference this makes to my day. I write a list of all those things I ABSOLUTELY MUSN’T FORGET on the notepad that sits on my bedside table. This tends to happen gradually as the evening goes on and as things pop into my head. By jotting them down I won’t be keeping myself awake telling myself that I musn’t forget. Some days the list is bigger than others!

I usually tend to potter around in this time too, maybe doing the washing up so I don’t have to face it in the morning, with some gentle music in my ears, or loading the washing machine ready to go in the morning. The key is to keep it mundane, the more simple and quite frankly boring the task, the better!

When I have either finished everything there is to do, or simply can’t be bothered to do anymore (which is dependant on the type of day I have had), I then think about getting ready to actually go to bed. I take off my make up, brush my teeth, have one last small drink of water, and go to the toilet, so that I don’t have to pee in the night.

Then it is into bed, and depending on how tired I feel, how much time I have or what kind of day I have had, I may do some mindfulness to de stress, do some reading (but not crime or horror!), or ask my husband to give me a massage if my pain is particularly bad.

By the time I have done all of this, I am generally very sleepy and finding it really hard to even keep my eyes open, in fact I often fall asleep during my mindfulness. I may be reading and the words become blurry because I am on the cusp of falling to sleep. This is the time, to seize the opportunity, to close my eyes and (hopefully) have sweet dreams.

I hope you have found this post useful, please do share your tips for settling down for a good nights sleep in the comments below, or over on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, I would love to hear from you!


 

Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #6 – It isn’t always a good night

Welcome back to another instalment of the fibromyalgia sleep chronicles. I will get back to business on sleeping tips in the coming weeks, but for today there is something more personal that I wanted to share with you about my sleep and how I cope when it doesn’t quite go how we all dream it would (excuse the pun).

If you have read the previous posts in this series then you will be familiar with my slight obsession with good sleep hygiene and habits in order to improve sleep (if you haven’t read them then I recommend you start with this post when you have finished reading what I have to share today).

However, my obsession with these habits isn’t just a phase, nor an unhealthy obsession. It is my personal recipe for getting things right. Not only practising these techniques, but also understanding why you should employ them, helps you to have a better relationship with sleep, and also not panic when things don’t go right. I’d also like to add that you don’t have to suffer with fibromyalgia to benefit from these techniques, you just need to be someone who would like to sleep better.

My sleep today, without boasting, is a thousand times better than it was 6 months ago, and treating my sleep like the third element of health, along with diet and exercise, has benefitted me enormously. This does mean that I am very quiet and boring of an evening (but this suits my better half as he has early starts so no problem there) and it doesn’t mean that I always get it right, and that I sleep soundly and deeply every night.

Life gets in the way. Children wake up in the night feeling unwell or after a bad dream. I get sick. God forbid I have an alcoholic drink. That’s right, things aren’t all rosy and it isn’t always a good night for me.

Take for example these last few days. Friday morning I woke up with back/loin pain, but put it down to a change of role at work which entailed more sitting than usual. I took in my hot water bottle, made myself move around a little more and thought I would get better. Friday night I slept dreadfully. Saturday also dreadful (partly down to having some rum, don’t judge), and by Sunday I realised that the back pain wasn’t because of my job but because I was developing a nasty kidney infection (which is now being treated). Pair this with a child that then woke up on Sunday night and by Monday I was more tired than when I finished work on Friday. This morning, I had to pretty much winch myself out of bed.

What I haven’t done however is give up hope of a good nights sleep, and I absolutely haven’t stopped practising the tried and tested techniques that I know work so well for me. I haven’t judged this blip and thought to myself “I don’t know why I bother because nothing works”, or “I’m too tired to do that tonight”. Instead I have carried on.

But how do you carry on? Well, its difficult and takes a lot of willpower that I know you all have. When all you want to do come morning is lay in bed, I urge you to absolutely get up and continue you day as much as you can, without making yourself more ill. Take a hard look at what could be the trigger for sleep eluding you at that moment and do all you can to remedy it. What has changed? Can you make it better? If you can, do so immediately. Most importantly you have to continue doing what you know works so well and keep up the good habits. By doing this, given time, it will start to improve again and today will soon be a distant memory.

Another key aspect to any ‘bumps in the road’ is acceptance. 6 months ago I used to get up and tell myself what a terrible night I had spent in the sack. I would tell everybody about it, and blame everything that went wrong that day on how poorly I had slept. I would flop into bed the following night EXPECTING to sleep badly again, and so I did.

Today I got up and thought to myself “well that was crap” and then I moved on. I didn’t allow it to invade my day, and I didn’t give it the airtime it doesn’t deserve. I wouldn’t say I ignored it as such, but I acknowledged the poor sleep, had a think about why it happened and I took proactive steps to remedy that problem, in the confidence that the next night stands every chance of beingย better. Sometimes it isn’t better, sometimes it is much worse, but at least I know I am doing something about it, and that I am in control. I will go to bed happy tonight, that I have achieved everything I can today, continue my sleep hygiene and aim for a good nights sleep. I have accepted the sleep for what it is, I haven’t over analysed it, yet done nothing and expect it to get magically better. I hasten to add that this has taken an awful lot of practice, and much more trial and error than I care to mention.

I know that changes to long forged habits are incredibly difficult to do and for anyone who has suffered with sleep problems these habits are your coping mechanism. Its often difficult for any chronic condition to know where to begin. As I have said in previous posts you have to take it one step at a time, not making too many changes at once. With this is mind start with the very beginning of this series spend at least a week looking at where you could perhaps have room to make improvements. This may include speaking to your doctor, family and friends to gain their support.

Eventually the good night comes, and when it does I give the biggest thanks I possibly can for its return. It feels amazing and feels even more fantastic knowing that it came back because of what I did, and through sheer determination, not magic.

Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #5 – Wakey Wakey Rise and Shine

Good evening and welcome back to this weeks instalment of the Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles. This week we will be looking at the benefits of a constant wake time, and how you should decide what that wake time should be.


The first active step I took in improving my sleep was to decide on what time I should get up every morning. Before making this decision both my sleep and wake times were all over the place and my body had pretty much forgotten how to sleep properly (it also forgot last night), and when you are dealing with fibromyalgia symptoms, sleep is key. Without even a hint of decent sleep, my days are full of pain, tiredness, brain fog and anxiety. With sleep, the ‘normal’ Sarah makes more of an appearance, which is the case on most days. When I have bad days, my worst of which usually follow a bad night in the sack, I’m pretty much walking through mud and thinking about going back to bed all day. My brain forgets how to connect with my mouth, and my pain drives me to distraction. OK when you are at home, absolutely not OK when you are at work.

So why choose a constant wake up time, and how do you decide what time it should be?

Our bodies love, and actually crave a constant wake up time. If you cast your mind back to when we spoke about circadian rhythms in this post, you will remember that our bodies need to find their rhythms and a constant wake up time is a good anchor point for getting your circadian hormones in sync. By waking and getting up into the daylight (see this post) at the same time every day (and yes that includes weekends) you are telling your body that it is time to get up and time to start your day. Over time your body will naturally begin to suppress your sleepy hormones while you sleep in preparation for your wake up time, which should mean that when you wake up you aren’t quite as groggy as you have been accustomed to, most likely because you have been woken up mid sleep cycle (you can find out more about sleep cycles here). Initially you will more than likely need an alarm to wake you up, but after time you will probably find that you will naturally wake up close to when your alarm is due to go off (although I would still set an alarm just in case!).

Without a constant waking time our bodies become confused, they don’t know when they should be sleeping and when they should be awake, and this is one of the best ways to lend you body a helping hand. Once you are getting up at the same time each day you should notice that you pretty much start to feel tired at the same time each day due to your body secreting all of the right hormones to send you the cues that you should start thinking about sleep. But how do you decide what time is the best time for you to get up?

Firstly, take a look at this post to find out what type of person you are. Are you a morning person or are you an evening person? You should try to factor this in to your wake up time where there is flexibility to, as it is probably not much good setting a time that is very early in the morning if you are more of an evening person. However, employment may dictate your wake up time in which case, short of looking for a new job that starts later, you may just need to suck it up. However, you may find that you become more of a morning person over time.

Secondly, you should take a look at an average week for your lifestyle, do you work? Do you have children that you need to get up an ready for school? The best advice is to pick the earliest possible time you need to be up and stick to it. This time should ideally be 90 minutes to 2 hours before you need to be at work if you do work, or before you have to be mentally on the ball for anything else. I’ll give you an example –

The first thing I have to do in the mornings is get my children up for school. They usually get up at around 7am. Knowing that there is no hope in hell of having a shower and fixing my mug once they are up (or it would be a massive rush which kind of goes against the grain of controlling fibromyalgia), I know that I need to get up before that point. I start work at 10am on weekdays and 8am on weekends. I have therefore made my wake up time 6.15am. On a weekday this gives me enough time to get myself up and accept the fact that morning has come (I am not a morning person) before my little larks are awake full of the joys of spring, and by the time they do I am usually over my morning sulk. On a weekend this is plenty of time to get myself up and out the door to make the journey to work, be there with a little time to spare and not feel stressed before I even get to work because I have been rushing.

Honestly, doing this has been one of the biggest things in turning my sleep around, with some frustrating exceptions. As I’ve always said, my sleep isn’t perfect but it is a million times better than it was before I started paying more attention to my sleep hygiene. Also, this is a nice gentle way of making a change without the use of medication which is important to me.

For those of you that are new to these posts I would encourage you to ready the first four posts before embarking on making this change –

The fibromyalgia sleep chronicles โ€“ Time to (try to) sleep

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #2 โ€“ What is normal sleep?

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #3 โ€“ The effect of blue light on sleep

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #4 โ€“ I am not a morning person

Lastly I would like to add that this advice is not just aimed at fibromyalgia warriors, but anybody who make be struggling with sleep disturbances.

Came and say hello over on social media by using the links at the bottom of this page ๐Ÿ™‚

This post along with many more inspirational posts than mine can be found at The Fibro Blogger Directory

Toodle Pip!

 

Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #4 – I am not a morning person

There are two types of people, those who wake up in the morning full of the joys of spring and ready to face their day, but ask them to do anything past 6pm and you’ll be told where to go. Then there are those who HATE mornings, take two hours to get going but once they get past lunchtime they achieve more than a lot of people can in a whole day, manage to go out after work, crawl into bed very late at night and still get enough sleep.


It doesn’t matter how much sleep you get, you are either a morning person or you aren’t. I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON. Not in the slightest, never have been, likely never will be, and I will always hate the alarm clock, but why does it even matter? Until I read this book, I wasn’t even sure.

It useful, but not necessarily crucial, to know what type of person you are. Are you a Lark or an Owl? Knowing which group of people you fall into (your chronotype) can help you in planning your days, your sleep routine and help you to be more productive than you have ever been.

Modern society often means that we are on the go pretty much from the time our alarms go off to the time we flop into our beds, but imagine how great you would feel about yourself if you worked in tune with you body and as a result become more productive and achieved more in less time? How many times have you sat at your computer staring blankly at the screen, or tried to exercise and felt that you could have done better but you either couldn’t concentrate or felt too tired? My bet is too many.

If you are a lark (and I will repeat, this is not me), then you should be focusing on the tasks that require that little more effort in the morning and early afternoon and saving those mundane easier tasks for later in the day. For example, if you work in an job that requires you to give presentations, make important decisions, or motivating others, then where you can you could schedule these tasks for the mornings, and chances are you will keep your colleagues more interested as they will also most likely be more receptive at this time. Or if you are somebody who has a choice in shift pattern you could try and work shifts that are earlier in the day rather than shifts that finish at midnight. You will also most likely benefit from going for an early morning workout before you go to work.

Larks also need to make peace with the fact that they probably won’t enjoy late evening social events or parties as much as they enjoy an early evening tipple or going home and relaxing in a bath with a good book. It doesn’t make you anti social, or boring, it makes you human. Larks usually need to go to bed earlier to be getting enough sleep (as they are awake earlier), and so if you are a morning person consider what time you are going to bed. It’s a simple equation of the earlier you get up, the earlier you will probably need to go to sleep if you are going to remain healthy of both body and mind.

I’m sure no explanation is needed for if you are an owl….. Owls typically find it difficult to wake up full of the joys of spring in the morning and will often be grumpy when they do get up. This may go on for a couple of hours. They will more than likely need an alarm to wake them up. This is most definitely me, and has become more pronounced since having Fibromyalgia. As an owl it makes sense to do things opposite to a lark where my life allows. It also makes sense for me to be awake sometime before an important appointment and even for a little while before I am responsible for the little larks in my life. My morning generally goes better if I am awake and have had a drink about half an hour before my children get up. That way the worst of the grogginess and grumpiness has passed, and I’m able to be a better mother to them without the need to snap and nag them quite so much. Daylight is also a very useful tool for me in starting my day (see my post on the effect of blue light here for more information)

I’ve been lucky enough to negotiate a later start time at work, and as result by the time I get there I am pretty much ready to hit the ground running (other symptoms permitting of course!). Also by being able to get up at 6.30am instead of 4.45am I am able to go to bed later and make more of my evening, fitting in exercise and blog writing at this time when I am more likely to do a better job. By doing the important tasks in my life later in the day rather than first thing in the morning, I generally get more done in my time at work (a huge benefit to my employer) and with my spare time (a huge benefit to me and my family). This has been great for my mood and levels of self esteem, which are equally as important as physical health. Without these wonderful feelings my fibromyalgia would be much more difficult to manage.

Of course, there will be some of you who don’t fit into these two categories, you’ll fall somewhere in between, whereby you can pretty much function well all day long and get up with no problem for your day. You lucky lucky people…..

If you are still unsure what bird you are then take this questionnaire and find out!

We may not all be in a position to start work when we know we are going to be at our best. Modern society isn’t yet, nor likely in the near future, able to accommodate everyones individual body clocks, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t manipulate your day to suit you most days. It takes a bit of practice, and a bit of planning, but once your boss sees the benefit of this manipulation they will be more than happy to let you continue.

So what has been the point of learning all of this. Well I have learnt that by embracing my body clock, I am able to make small changes for large gains. I feel better about what I am achieving with my day and this in turn reduces my stress and anxiety levels, which helps me to sleep better. I am be able to exercise more effectively, which again helps me sleep. I am be able to work out just when the right time is for me to go to bed which …….. well you can tell where I am going with this. I am also able to use this approach when managing my fibromyalgia symptoms, which are typically worse first thing in the morning and last thing at night (with the exception of flares).

Sleeping well is as much about what we do with our days as what we do under the duvet. So take a step back and look at your day. Be kind to yourself. Love yourself. Larks and Owls are both beautiful birds, embrace your own unique beauty, preen those feathers and fly.

So which chronotype are you? What do you do to get more out of your day or what changes could you make? Let me know in the comments section.

For more ways to treat and embrace your fibromyalgia or chronic illness, the flow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This post along with many other inspiring fibro blog posts can be found on the Fibro Bloggers Directory.

Toodle Pip!

Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #3 – The effect of blue light on sleep

Good morning! How did you sleep last night? Was it long and restful, or frustratingly disturbed? This series of posts is looking at how we can make our sleeping habits healthier and more beneficial, and I hope that what I have learnt throughout my journey to better sleep will help others.

I started off learning more about sleep before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Leading up to diagnosis I found myself in a cycle of going to bed and then either not falling to sleep or not staying asleep and this of course meant that my days were littered with yawns, pain and forgetfulness because I was so tired.

However, there are many reasons for somebody suffering a sleep disturbance, whether it be chronic or temporary, and it can be easy to just accept it and never do anything about it. It doesn’t have to be this way. That being said, I don’t have the secrets to solving everyones sleep problems, but following the advice I sought in the posts I am sharing along with a few of my own ideas, has led to me sleeping infinitely better than I was 6 months ago. Having good sleep hygiene also isn’t a quick fix, all of this advice would need to be taken on board and practised as part of a permanent lifestyle change and not just for a few days and then giving up.

I have also decided to break down the posts to get into the nitty gritty of these sleep changing habits, in order for you to have some time practising them before moving onto the next step. I also like to fully understand the reason for trying something before I embark on a lifestyle change, something that in healthcare we call an informed decision. It helps us to feel more in control and that increase our sense of wellbeing. It can be all too easy to look at the end goal and want to make all the necessary changes at once without fully understanding them, but this can often be overwhelming and lead to somebody giving up before they have even begun to see any benefit.

The effect of blue light on sleep

For this post we are looking at how to be kinder to our body clock in order to make our bodies actually want to sleep and the effect blue light can have on our circadian rhythms. It helps if you read my previous post about circadian rhythms before reading this one, and that you get your bedroom sleep friendly.

What do I mean by being kind to your body clock? Well, your body clock and circadian rhythms are responsible for making sure you fall to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed. If you body clock is out of rhythm, chances are, you are struggling with one or more of these things, but there are some gentle and effective ways to help reset your rhythm, and using blue light to our advantage.

We are especially sensitive to a wavelength of light known as blue light, which you may associate with the bad reputation of screens and mobile devices have when it comes to getting a good nights sleep. You’ve probably been told to avoid blue light if you want to sleep better, and this is partly true, because as we have already said, blue light suppresses melatonin which is responsible for making us sleepy. However, please do not think that blue light is all bad, it is simply about the timing of this light.

The good news

If you are somebody who is waking up unrefreshed, and really struggles to get yourself going in the morning then blue light is going to be your biggest ally. By using daylight, which is rich in blue light, to kickstart your day you are suppressing melatonin production, and melatonin is your sleepy hormone. So it figures that by suppressing melatonin you are automatically going to be less sleepy. Daylight is full of blue light, and in the morning when you want to wake up this is good! So instead of pressing that snooze button, get up, open the curtains and let the light flood over you. I guarantee you will start your day feeling better. I also find it useful to step outside into the light and the coolness of the morning air also helps me become more alert and ready to tackle the day.


Now, it is all very well saying this in May when the mornings are light in the northern hemisphere and opening the curtains is all that is needed, but what about those long dark winter months, when the most daylight we see maybe from across the workplace as we peer out to see what the weather is like? Then it isn’t so easy but there is something that can help.

Daylight lamps, such as a Lumie, are probably the best way forward if your problem is waking up in the morning. These ‘lights’ gradually take your bedroom from darkness to as close to daylight that is possible with an electronic device, and best of all it happens while you are sleeping. This gradual move from darkness to light begins the melatonin suppression before you even get up and this may help you to feel more refreshed when the alarm finally goes off. Or you may even find that it works so effectively that you don’t even need an alarm! Imagine that! Daylight lamps can also be useful for the mid afternoon slump if you aren’t able to take yourself outside for a walk.

The bad news

So we have determined that daylight and blue light is good for helping you wake up, but by now you should have guessed that it isn’t so good for the other end of the day when you want to fall to sleep. The major offenders for preventing healthy sleep patterns are mobile devices and any screens, like computer and televisions. The longer in the evening that we use these devices, the longer it will take for our bodies to begin secreting enough melatonin to get us to fall to sleep. I find for me that I need to to be away from blue light for a good 90 minutes before I begin to feel sleepy enough to fall asleep. So if I don’t stop using my phone until 10pm, I’m looking at it being at least 1130pm before I’m ready to sleep. The less I use blue light in the evenings, the sooner I am ready to sleep because my body clock is recognising that it is the evening and therefore time to rest.

I do realise that it can be very difficult to drag yourself away from mobile devices in the evening, and for many of us it forms part of our social habits and entertainment. I recommend avoiding them if you can as it is not only the blue light but also the effect it can have on stress levels and brain activity before we sleep. An example of this may be that we read some distressing news before going to sleep and this then plays on our minds and stops us from being able to switch off. But if you simply can’t drag yourself away then a compromise would be using the nighttime option on your phone. I use an iPhone and the nighttime option can be set to the same each day. This option turns the light on the screen from blue to varying degrees of red. Pair this up with turning the brightness down to its lowest setting and you will still be helping your melatonin production somewhat. Even though I don’t really use my phone before going to bed I do still use this setting from 2030 each evening, until 0730 each morning as this reminds me of the time and to start thinking about moving away, as well as reminding me not prioritise engaging with things I can’t control too early in the morning which would get my day off to a stressful start.

It isn’t just phones and television that are responsible for emitting blue light. Most ceiling lights and even table lamps in our homes also let off blue light, so if your house is lit up like Blackpool until you go to bed, then chances are you may also find it difficult to sleep well. Luckily for me I adore candle light, whether it be winter or summer, and candle light emits amber light, which actually helps our body clocks do what they need to do to make us sleepy as there is no melatonin suppression. Another benefit is that we all look better in candlelight! So why not try lighting a few candles in the evening and have them dotted around your humble abode? You’ll also save money on electricity as well as sleeping better! I also make sure I have a large candle on the go as this follows me from room to room as I go about like some medieval peasant in the dark brushing my teeth and getting my things ready for the morning.

So there you have it, what do you think of blue light? Do you have any experience in how it can affect sleep and our mood? Will you be trying any of the techniques I’ve described? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below. I promise I am really friendly and won’t bite!

As ever you can always find me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

This post along with many others from fellow fibro bloggers can be found at the Fibro Blogger Directory.

Toodle pip and I hope you sleep well tonight!

 

Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #2 – What is normal sleep?

Fibromyalgia is renowned for wreaking havoc on sleep, and these problems range from not waking up refreshed despite sleeping all night, to full blown insomnia, and everything in between. Whatever the sleep disturbance is, it can make a Fibro Warrior feel extremely fatigued, can increase pain levels, and pretty much exacerbate all their symptoms. Before we delve into the world of how to try and improve our sleep, I thought it would be useful to look a little at the physiology behind sleep and what normal (does some air quote marking) sleep actually is. This way we can better understand what part of our sleep isย the problem, and therefore remedy the issue more effectively.

Normal sleep will mean different things for everybody. However, the over arching rule is getting the right amount of undisturbed sleep to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed. Sleep is our way of recovering physically and processing the events of our day mentally. For some of us this will be 9 hours, and for others it will only be 4 or 5 hours. All sorts of factors contribute to this need including age, existing health problems, and daily physical activity. We generally need less sleep as we get older, and possibly need more more if we are more active or have an exhausting health problem. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to sleep, and the best way to work out if you are sleeping well is going by how you feel. If you are spending large portions of the night awake, or waking up multiple times per night, then this is not effective sleep. If you sleep through the night but wake up feeling worse than you did when you went to sleep, taking a couple of hours to get going, this again is not effective sleep.

I didnโ€™t realise that I wasnโ€™t sleeping well until I went from sleeping through the night to not being able to sleep at all. I then did some research into how to sleep better and recognised very quickly that it had been a number of years since I’d woken up in the morning and had the bouncing energy I should be able to expect at my age. At the time I was putting it down to being a busy working mother with a fast paced full time job and not giving enough respect or enough time to my sleep. I would often look at my 6 year old daughter, who gets up with the early bird, and wonder how on earth she managed to wake in the morning with so much energy, but I now realise it’s because she sleeps very well! Children generally do. However, we should all be able to expect to wake up in the morning with (almost) this amount of energy, but perhaps not the enthusiasm.

To begin to understand normal sleep patterns we need to first understand circadian rhythms. I wont go on too much about this as it is quite complex and would take a whole bunch of posts to really get into the nitty gritty of it, but will give an overview in a nutshell (if you would like to learn more then I would recommend this website).

Our circadian rhythm is our internal clock, that is ticking by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It never stops. It is controlled within our brain and is responsible for maintaining balances in sleeping, eating, hormone production, temperature and mood amongst other things. You cannot change your circadian rhythm, it is engrained within you, following many years of evolution of the human race. But sometimes what our bodies want to do and what we want them to do can conflict. Our modern lives and way of working have made us move further and further away from our natural rhythms and this is causing many problems for some people such as unhealthy weight gain, unbalanced hormones, lowering of mood, and of course, disturbed sleep.

Typically our bodies want us to wake up in the morning and rise with the sun. The sun shining onto our skin would naturally wake us up and get the hormones responsible for giving us energy flowing. Our bodies and mind would then be alert and able to be active during the day, and then as night time comes and the sun sets, our bodies begin to secrete melatonin which increases our urge to sleep. This usually begins at around 9pm for your Average Joe, and peaks at around 2-3am. Melatonin also causes your body temperature to drop which again increases your urge to sleep. Night shift workers will be all too familiar with the battle to stay awake at 2-3am and the feeling of not being able to get warm no matter what you do. That is your circadian rhythm right there, telling you to sleep. Over the years of working night shifts as a midwife I grew to know this feeling all too well, and after fighting the urge to sleep all night I would leave the hospital feeling almost drunk.

Ok, so lets all assume we have a well oiled internal clock and we can all go to bed at a reasonable time to get the right amount of sleep for our own needs. We do something relaxing, like reading, listening to gentle music or meditation, in an environment suitable to sleep. See my last sleep postย for more information on how to prepare your bedroom for sleep. Suddenly our eyelids become heavy and we decide to roll over and go to sleep. So we do (a girl can dream right? No pun intended). This is when we begin to ride the sleep rollercoaster.

Our sleep, as many of you will know, is made up of cycles, and these typically last around 90 minutes, and each cycle is made up of 4 stages.

Stage 1 – Drifting off – Non REM

This is the stage where you get that lovely floaty, woozy feeling, somewhere between sleeping and being awake. This is also the stage where you may โ€˜jerkโ€™ or feel like you are falling and wake up suddenly, which at the time is scary as hell until you realise you are still in bed and not falIing down the stairs! It doesn’t take very much to be woken up in this stage, someone slamming a door, or dropping something is likely to wake you easily.

Stage 2 – Light sleep – Non REM

This is the stage in which our heart rate slows and our body temperature begins to drop slightly, and this is where we spend most of our sleeping hours. We can still be woken easily at this stage, by someone calling our name or giving us a good shake. This is the stage of sleep where our brains consolidate the information of the day, and our motor skills improve. Do not be fooled by the name of this stage of sleep, is it incredibly beneficial, even though it is light, as part of a cycle that is well balanced. However, getting stuck in this stage all night is not good and those people who wake up feeling unrefreshed from a nights sleep despite not waking are likely to spending too much time here.

Stage 3 – Deep sleep – Non REM

Now, Even though we only spend about 20% of the night in this stage of sleep it is where you are aiming to get to in each cycle. This is where to real rest and recovery takes place. If you have ever been woken by somebody shaking you, or by your alarm in this stage, then you will know how it feels like you areย punch drunk and you will find it very difficult to wake up. You will also know if you have woken someone in this stage as you will really have to shake them to wake them, and when you do wake them they may speak in tongues! This is sleep inertia. For people who sleep walk, this is also the time where you will go have your night time adventures. We need to try and wallow in the bath of deep sleep as much as possible to gain its very beneficial restorative effect. It is also in this stage that we secrete human growth hormone which is responsible for repair of tissues and cells.

Stage 4 – Dreaming – REM

This is the stage that we will be aware of even though we are sleeping because this is the stage in which we dream. This is the stage that is responsible for creativity, so if you make it to here then you are onto a winner. Again, we spend about 20% of our time here. At the end of this stage we temporarily wake up although we won’t remember this. We then go back to sleep and start the whole cycle again.

In ideal sleep we would cycle through these four stages of sleep for as many cycles as our bodies need, be that 3, 4, 5, or 6. As the night goes on we would be spending less time in deep sleep and more time in REM sleep, making it easier to wake up refreshed and ready to face our day, rather than groggy.

To work out which way your sleep is being affected, if at all, it can be useful to monitor your symptoms for a week or two, along with the parts of sleep you remember. Did you wake up? Did you see through but still feel terrible? Did you sleep at all? Once you have worked this out you can then go on to find a solution, and we will be exploring this more in the upcoming chapters of the Sleep Chronicles.

I hope you found this little post useful, and please do check back on the last sleep post for advice on how to make you le sleeping environment as conducive to sleep as possible. I will try and write again in this series as soon as I can ๐Ÿ™‚ but for now you can keep up to date with fibromyalgia news on my Facebookย and Twitter pages, and I post regularly on Instagram


Toodle Pip!