Improving your sleep

One of the worst things about having chronic fatigue syndrome or other chronic conditions such as long COVID and fybromyalgia is the bad sleep. First of all, you might wake up terribly after a full night of sleep and feel worse than the night before. But it doesn’t just stop with unrefreshed sleep. Maintaining a healthy sleep rhythm gets worse, and falling asleep gets harder. Your sleep might get fragmented, and the ability to have a deep cycle slowly decreases over time.

Each of these things alone is enough to make you feel depleted after a while. This is, however, not an article about desperation, but rather one of hope. How can you improve your sleep?

improving sleep

Stress and sleep disruption

The main cause of bad sleep is stress. Stress activates the survival mode of the nervous system, and sleep is not really a priority. In this stress mode, your brain has high beta brain waves. In order to fall asleep, you need the opposite: calmness and acceptance. The thinking mind, which resists your current situation, may activate the stress response. Your symptoms might also trigger the stress response. If your symptoms increase due to bad sleep, you are in a negative spiral that might be hard to stop.

Understanding this stress response was a big step in my sleep journey. It is natural to feel resistance towards a debilitating condition, yet it doesn’t help. In other moments, we can see a correlation between stressful events and bad sleep. Medication may be helpful to jump-start your sleep or improve your rhythm. Ask your doctor about the possibilities and whether they can be helpful in your situation. If the addiction to sleep medication is your problem, as it was at one point for me, try to take it a little less every week. Scratch off tiny amounts and take twice a week the previous week’s dosage. Sleep medication has its place, but I noticed that the medication also prevented me from having deep sleep cycles over time.

To reduce the stress response, it is more helpful to stop certain stressful behaviors than it is to add new routines. If you are about to implement lots of big changes, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The average sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes. Six sleep cycles last nine hours. If you are still not allowing yourself to rest properly, give yourself those nine hours.

When you are analyzing and thinking a lot, there is a big chance you are in the fight or flight mechanism of the nervous system. There are lots of things that can help you get out of your head. Consider techniques such as feeling your body touching the bed, conducting body scans, practicing yoga nidra, and focusing on your senses. Feeling tired when you’re trying to sleep can also help. Merge with the heaviness.

Here are my sleep tips; you might know most of them from sleep hygiene advice. I still apply them as best I can every day. When I was at my worst, my sleep was terrible; it took me two months to fix it.

Implement sleep hygiene to improve your rhythm

  • Wake up every day around the same time!! This way, your body learns to use your rest hours more efficiently. Knowing when to make certain types of hormones helps your adrenals, which reduces stress on your entire body. Waking up will become easier over time.
  • Stop using your phone before you go to sleep. Social media is very stressful. Use a blue-light blocker if you must use social media.
  • Take a bath before you go to bed. This calms you down. The heat might help you induce a sleep reaction.
  • Have a daily rhythm. Just like with children, a daily rhythm helps the sleep cycle; the adrenals need to make less cortisol.
  • Save some energy at the end of the day. This makes it easier for your adrenals to make cortisol and easier for you to wake up the next morning.
  • Before going to bed, practice meditation. This will make it easier to start the brain waves.
  • Some movement during the day is crucial for your body to feel sleepy. Walking is a great exercise for recovery. Whatever you do, don’t do it rushed. If movement improves sleep and sleep improves movement, you flipped the negative spiral.
  • Go to bed around the same time every day. Earlier when needed, later when you are not tired.
  • Have a nap in the middle of the day if you feel like you can’t push yourself through the day.
  • A stress response might cause the urge to stay awake and distract yourself with TV or something else. Be aware of this. Turn off your devices and wait for the stress response to calm down. (This might take an hour or longer in the beginning.)
  • Breath slowly towards your lower body.
  • A body scan in bed is great to get you out of your mind and stop the stress response.
  • Get out of bed in the morning, or get into a seated position. Falling back asleep quickly disrupts your rhythm.
  • Stimulants such as sugar, nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine make it hard to get into the alpha sleep cycle.
  • Don’t dine too late. A full stomach might make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Get as much sunlight exposure as possible during the day. This will boost your melatonin.
  • Earplugs might help against lots of sounds.
  • A cool room makes sleeping easier.
  • Detoxing can make sleep temporarily more difficult.
  • In a crash, it is important to keep getting out of bed at the same time. You can sit somewhere and be exhausted in another place.