I would say sleep is pretty important to most people, but when it comes to chronically ill people – good sleep is like gold dust. A rare and a magnificent thing (if gold dust is particularly magnificent?). Sleep becomes difficult with a lot of conditions, whether they can’t sleep, don’t sleep well, find it difficult to sleep due to pain, or sleep way too long.
My sleep pattern is all over the place. It’s often a few hours interrupted by pain, often not getting to sleep until 4:00-5:00am. Then I’m falling asleep throughout the day as I didn’t get a good enough sleep. Then every week or so I’ll sleep far too long – sometimes 16+ hours but still don’t reach that final deep stage of sleep – so I wake feeling unrefreshed.
I often have bouts of insomnia where I’m awake all night, and a mess during the day. Insomnia is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Whether it’s one night of sleeplessness, or much longer, it’s just horrible and when it happens to me, the fine line between being a bit of a wreck, and being in the gutter shatters, and I’m a cranky, exhausted, mess.
This happened inconveniently for the days running up a wedding at the weekend, and I spent the whole of the ceremony – pretty sure captured on camera as well, desperately trying to keep my eyes open and mostly failing.
It usually causes splitting headaches, moodiness, and the inability to enjoy anything. Your bed becomes all you can think about, and the further away that elusive ‘collapse into bed’ moment is, the worse you feel.
During my teenage years, and culminating in total insomnia during my first year of university, I’ve tried to practise better ‘sleep hygiene’. I have rules, although I often break them! I put these rules together myself from bitter experience, but the Pain Clinic also teaches them.
1) First and most importantly, no sleeping during the day. If you really, really have to sleep because oh no, your eyes are closing and can’t stay awake any more – make sure it stays under an hour. Set an alarm. I tend to find sleeping during the day equals hours awake at night, even if the nap was only brief. This is an almost impossible one I break often, sadly. If you really do have to sleep – don’t use your bedroom due to rule 2.
2) Don’t relax in the bedroom or even read. It should be for sleeping only (and you know, that one other thing!), so your brain connects your bedroom to sleep. This does work; if I walk into my bedroom I usually feel a wave of tiredness. I want to try and get the best sleep I can in that room, so if I have to nap during the day I pick another room.
3) If you’re lying there wide awake – get up and do something. Having said this, if I’m in the tired but can’t fall asleep stage I will often stay in bed anyway. I use this time to drift off and daydream (or night dream?) as I feel this also benefits you. But if I’m wide awake I’ll leave the room and read. (Although I’ll often go on the computer which wakes me up more, so try not to do that!)
4) Turn the clock away from you. There is nothing worse than being unable to sleep, and watching the hours tick away. If you don’t know what time it is, I feel you don’t get into that oh god I must sleep panic so easily.
5) And final tip if you’re hardcore is to try and get a sleep routine. This one I believe would work, but I find it too hard to stick to. I find if I get up early when I don’t have something to do – I fall asleep against my will.
Further rules on sleep hygiene can be found in this article here by Amber Merton.