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 – Time to (try to) sleep

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

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

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #4 – 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 🙂

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 is 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 didn’t realise that I wasn’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 post 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 ‘jerk’ 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 are 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 🙂 but for now you can keep up to date with fibromyalgia news on my Facebook and Twitter pages, and I post regularly on Instagram


Toodle Pip!

Sleep Hygiene

The fibromyalgia sleep chronicles – Time to (try to) sleep

Welcome to the first instalment of the sleep chronicles!

Sleep and Fibromyalgia. They all too often don’t mix (see my post about insomnia for the gruesome details!). Either you can’t sleep, or when you do sleep its of such poor quality you almost wish you didn’t fall to sleep in the first place.

This is how I felt just a couple of months ago, and some nights I do still feel like this. BUT, with some gentle tweaking to my bedtime routine (okay, massive tweaking I didn’t actually have a routine before) and recognising my triggers for poor sleep, I have actually been able to make some progress in getting some shut eye and I am hoping that by sharing what I have learnt and found helpful, I may well help somebody else with sleep disturbances. If these instalments help just one person I’ll be super happy. As a way of a little disclaimer, I am not proposing to solve all of your problems, and for some my techniques won’t help at all, but I am simply sharing what I have found in getting, what I loosely call, a ‘better’ nights sleep.

For this first post, lets start with the basics, setting the scene for a (hopefully) good nights sleep.

I’d like you to take yourself into your bedroom and take a look around. What do you see? Do you have piles of laundry waiting to be folded? Do you have a television? Do you keep your work diary on your bedside table? If so, move it all…. Move anything that may pose as a distraction, even from the corner of your eye. If you are going to look at it and think ‘oh, I really must sort that out before I go to sleep’ or ‘just one more episode’ then you aren’t really switching off. By moving these items out of the room, you are not able to physically see them, and therefore you are less likely to be tempted to sort them out, or just do one more task once you actually get yourself anywhere near ready to sleep (we’ll talk about being able to do these tasks before going to bed in a later post). I used to have piles and piles of laundry at the end of my bed, a list on my bedside table of things I needed to do, and honestly, they were not helpful when I was trying to visit the land of nod.

Okay, all of the distractions out of the room? Lets move on!

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Open the window! It doesn’t have to be opened much, just the tiniest of gaps. Letting fresher cooler air into the bedroom enables you body to cool down when you are getting ready to sleep. Cooling down helps the body to release melatonin, an essential hormone needed in order to be able to sleep. And on that note…..

Turn down the thermostat. We have our thermostat on at 20 degrees during the day, but in the evening I turn this down to 18 degrees. This again enables the body to cool down and stay cool throughout the night and release the magical hormone melatonin. If you keep your thermostat on toasty warm, you are more likely to wake up because you have gotten too warm and your body is struggling to stick to its circadian rhythms.

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Are you curtains/blinds keeping daylight out enough? Before the invention of the lightbulb and before humans could harness electricity, apart from the light of a campfire or a candle, we would have pretty much been in darkness when we slept, only rising when the sun peeked over the horizon. Now, keeping daylight out isn’t so much of a problem in the winter months when the days are short It is dark by the time we settle and still dark when most of us rise, but in the summer, it can be deal breaker on whether or not you will sleep well. Historically I have worked many night shifts, and because of this when we got curtains for the bedroom we decided on a really dark pair (they are mostly dark brown) and no light gets through them. Even more importantly, they cover the window space well, so light can’t really peek around the edges either.

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I like a nicely made bed to get into, free of crumbs, and other little bits that can work their way into the bed with children, cats and dare I say it, husbands (sorry Matt). However, I am not willing to change my bed every day to achieve this. Simply making the bed up after everyone has rolled out of it is enough to keep it fresh between changes.

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I also like my bedside table to have everything I need in reach so I don’t have to keep getting up and down once I’m ensconced under my duvet. Because of this I keep a range of reading books on my bedside table so that whatever mood I am in I can generally find a good book to read. This is my current selection (I have peculiar tastes) –

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In my bedside table drawer I also have my inhalers, antihistamines (its rare, but occasionally I have strange allergic reactions in the middle of the night), lip balm, hand cream, foot cream and face cream. This stops me from getting out of bed if I have forgotten to do any of these things in my bedtime routine.

Next, think about the lighting. You really should be aiming for a soft warm/amber light when you are settling down for bed. Candlelight is best for this. I usually have a tea light burning and my warm light bedside lamp on its lowest setting, just enough for me to see the words on the pages of my books. It amazing the difference soft lighting makes to the heaviness of the eyelids come sleepy time.

Lastly, and this is the bit I struggled with the most. If you have pets, strongly consider shutting them out of the bedroom while you are sleeping. I had a feeling our cats may have been waking me up, what with all the being pinned down with between two of them, not being able to move, the running in and out of the bedroom at lightning speed because they needed a poo, the fighting, and more often than not, waking up with a cat on my head. This is the look Maude gives me at bedtime now, and when she knows its time to be shut in the kitchen –

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“I promise to be good mum”, and this you see is why I felt bad initially. The poor cats had gone 14, 12, and 10 years sleeping on our beds and now they have to sleep in the kitchen. However, not being woken by them is a real treat indeed.

And on that note. Nighty night, sleep tight, don’t let the insomnia bite.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep…….

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.

Night night