Is it just me, or is a good night’s sleep really the muts nuts! Dear reader lets be honest it’s freaking awesome! (I’m trying to moderate my language more, can you tell). You may notice from the cheery opening to this post that I actually got some sleep last night(!!). 7 hours approximately of largely uninterrupted sleep (OMFG it was amazeballs!).
Everyone needs a good nights sleep, fact. (don’t ever say I don’t provide pure nuggets of gold on this blog). It’s up there in importance with air, food and water. However, on the most part our bodies seem fairly on board with the concept of consuming air, food and water to keep us healthy/alive (even if it doesn’t always crave exactly the right kinds of those things). Sleep however, errrrr, not so much. I can’t think of a person I know who has not had some sleep related problem at some time or another, be it short term due to a short term stress such as exams, or long term insomnia, or regular waking.
And not sleeping, well dear reader, we all know that’s a bastard! (the ‘not swearing’ is starting to go down hill, however in my defence it’s a very emotive subject!) There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to sleep. We want it, we need it, we are totally up for it and ready to embrace it, and…despite all of that we don’t always get it. Not only is that longing and not getting (or not getting enough) a mental torture, the effects of not getting enough sleep can play havoc on our bodies.
The main thing that my Rheumatologist highlighted to me when talking about my recovery (from Fibromyalgia) was sleep! Sleep (or lack of it) is at the heart of many fibromyalgia symptoms and the worsening of others. In particular it is a sleep pattern that interrupts the all important and restorative ‘deep sleep’ that seems to cause the problems for FMS sufferers.
My sleep journey is a slightly odd one, but apparently fairly typical for Fibro sufferers. From the outside it appears that I sleep, and well. I go to bed, fall asleep and wake up – great! In fact my husband used to ask me for sleep tips because he occasionally struggles with insomnia and would be jealous of his happy sleeping wife tucked up next to him in bed. But, there is more to it than meets the eye. I wake up (after all that ‘sleep’) exhausted! Then continue to get more tired and fatigued throughout the day. A little odd for the good sleeper in the family!
It was my Rheumatologist’s questioning that highlighted the problem, and a problem is exactly what it is. ‘Do you wake up in the night?’ she asked knowingly. ‘Well yes, but only for a minute, seconds even, I might wake up stiff or in pain and have to move, that kind of thing, but nothing like my husband who can wake up and be awake for hours!’. And apparently in that brief statement I had captured a large part of my health woes, the cause of a lot of my symptoms and my strife! (Who knew?! – well not me obviously).
The main issue is that my ‘regular waking’ sleep pattern causes issues with deep sleep, the most juicy and restorative part of sleep, essential for brain function, healing and all sorts of other lovely things. Deep sleep comes towards the end of the sleep cycle, so you need to stay asleep long enough to reach it. If you wake up before you get there, or during, you miss it/or some of it and all of the important and lovely things that it does. Bummer!
There is growing research that shows that lack of sleep has a negative affect on our wellness in other ways as well. Even if you aren’t in the same pattern as me, lack of sleep causes decreased tolerance of pain, short term memory and cognition problems and can have a major effect on mood.
‘So,’ I hear you cry, ‘what are you doing about it Kate?’ Here are the things I am currently trying to improve my sleep and my estimated rating of success (included my fabulous new discovery – it’s the last one in case you can’t be arsed to read it all):
I take a drug called ametryptylne each night. This was originally prescribed for nerve problems (including nerve pain and overactive nerves causing irritable bowel), however one of the side effects is conveniently drowsiness. This means this type of medication is also sometimes prescribed for fibromyalgia sufferers to help them sleep. Once my Rheumatologist found out I was already on it, she just upped my dose in order to help me nod off.
I would say 5/10. For me I found the side effects either wear off, or I get used to them after a while, thus reducing the effectiveness. Also they made me feel tired in a drugged way, which helped me get off and may have reduced some night time waking but didn’t really do much to keep me asleep when I got there. Another unfortunate side effect was the drugged feeling that added to my exhaustion upon waking, which I wouldn’t say was ideal (although this has thankfully worn off now).
I take an effervescent magnesium tablet each night before bed. There is lots of research and articles around linking magnesium deficiency (which according to many of these articles is quite common) with sleep and muscle problems. It is also recommended in Liptan’s book (which I recommend in my Fibromyalgia specific post which you can find here) so I thought it was worth a shot!
I also often soak in magnesium in the tub or in epsom salts (which are high in magnesium) as apparently it is best absorbed through the skin. This is also great for anyone who also suffers aches and pains.
For sleep alone I would say 6/10. (higher if you include muscle aches). Whether it is just the sleep hygiene factor of creating a bedtime routine and letting my mind know, via a fizzy magnesium cocktail, that it’s time for bed, or whether it is the deficiency being topped up, I certainly started to feel a notable difference to my sleep once I added this mineral. Combined with the benefits to my aching muscles it’s definitely something I will be sticking to (in both forms) for the foreseeable.
TIP! Epsom Salts and Magnesium Crystals for the bath can be mega expensive especially when you read the recommended dosage on the back of the back(!), however it is around at MUCH cheaper prices than the recommended retail price at bargain shops for the home. Whatever you do (unless you’re super loaded and don’t care, in which case do whatever you want) don’t just buy the one you see on your local supermarket shelf or on the first website you find. If you’re spending more than a few quid per Kg you’re being ripped off.
3. Sleep hygiene.
(Groan!) This is one of those things that the media, women magazines, TV programmes and all sorts of others love banging on about. Personally, I always find it a bit annoying, it’s bit like reducing our alcohol consumption, we know we should, but…
Anyway, I thought I should probably give this a shot (or at least make a nod to it, mainly to stop my husband nagging me) now that had a diagnosis telling me that my best chance of symptom reduction was SLEEP.
Black out curtains, done. No light in bedroom at night, done. Keep bedroom cool for sleep, done. Keep bedroom clear of clutter and calm as your place of rest, (cough) done(ish). No screens 2 hours before bedtime (PaHaHa), kind of? OK kind of is ‘kind of’ an exaggeration, but I’m working on it (if ‘working on it’ means not actually doing anything to change it but at least feeling guilty for my last hour of screen time before bedtime). However, one thing I have added to the routine is trying to turn off the screens early enough to have a little read before bed, as this allows my eyes to become sleepy and relieves some of the screen guilt.
6/10. Look this obviously works, it’s largely common sense (the annoying kind that we all know is the case but can’t be arsed to implement). I think the reading (without screens) certainly helps to get me off to sleep and keeping the room cool with minimal light helps to reduce potential waking. If you don’t do it already, give it a try, it can certainly do no harm.
If you watched the BBC One documentary recently ‘The Truth About Sleep’ you will now be think ‘ahhh she watched that BBC programme about sleep!’ if you didn’t you may be thinking ‘what’s she going on about now?!’.
Anyway, for those who didn’t see it, in the documentary Michael Mosley (the nice Doctor presenter chap) trialled some of the latest sleep research (so far only trialled officially on rats) on himself. This research was the use of Pre-biotics, before bedtime, to aid a restful nights sleep. After only 4 days on the stuff he claimed his (normal insomniac) sleep patterns had improved to what he rated as a 9/10! After the trial when he stopped taking it, like clockwork after a few days, as it worked his way out of his system, his sleep pattern returned to its insomniac pattern of before.
Now this, by his own admittance, was no scientific test, however placebo effect seemed unlikely as he had tried loads of things before and had never bee susceptible to placebo effect, he was also was very sceptical in his approach to the whole thing.
Further testing is obviously required, however this isn’t a drug, it’s a health food product, that has been on the market for years as a stomach aid. So I decided to try it (unfortunately so apparently did everyone else who watched the programme, making it a little difficult to get hold of for a while!). If you want to try it you will more commonly find it described as ‘Inulin’ rather than or as well as ‘pre-biotics’, but my friendly independent health food shop owner reassures me it’s the same thing.
So, the all important success rating (drum roll please)….
9/10! I shit you not dear reader, this sleep solution for me has been life changing. About a week and a half in and I’m sleeping, aware of very few night wakings and the biggest shocker… For the first time in as long as I can remember I wake up morning after morning feeling rested and ready to start the day(!), I know I am literally freaking out!
The only downsides I have experienced to this (and I would take them all day long for the joy of sleep) are stomach and stiffness. So firstly my stomach was a little bit iffy at first, and I’m not sure if it was down to this or not, but I reduced the dose to one and a half tea spoons and it has been fine since. The other is because I am sleeping SO deeply I am waking up a little stiff and sometimes in more pain because I’m not moving around as much, but nothing a morning stretching routine won’t fix!
If you are interested you can find the brand of inulin I have been taking here, but there are loads of others available on amazon and at health food shops.
This has been a (rather long winded) whistle stop tour of some of the things I’m trying specifically for sleep. Of course there is bound to be a lot of cross over with other things I am trying for other symptoms, as it all affects our general wellness.
Please let me know below if you have tried any of these approaches and how they rated for you, I’m really interested to know if anyone else had tried the same things and found different or the same results, and that info could also be useful for other readers. If you have tried anything different that has worked well I would also love you to share…
As always I am not a medically trained person, so if you are interested in trying any of the things you have read about on my site, do your own research and discuss with a member of your healthcare team.