One thing many people with chronic illness seem to have in common is fatigue. Sometimes it’s manageable but more often it’s beyond me to even lift my head off the pillow, despite having a long night’s sleep. As someone living with added conditions of sleep apnea and chronic pain, getting good sleep has been a challenge for many years.
I have NO problem going to sleep. Oh, sweet bedtime. I LOVE my bed and happily crawl into it any time of the day when given the chance. But regardless of the amount of sleep I get, I rarely feel refreshed and recharged. If only. So I thought I’d share some things that I do to manage fatigue.
01. Have a sleepy time routine.
Yep, this works for adults just as well as it works for children. A great routine for fellow chronic pain sufferers is to end the day with an Epsom salt bath... adding essential oils and lighted candles is a bonus! Followed by a slow massage of moisturizing lotion before crawling into bed with clean PJ’s on and a good book.
02. Read each day.
I read every night for at least 30 minutes. I’m one of these people who has three or four books going at once, so I get to choose between them depending on my mood. Reading is proven to relax you, improve your mind, improve your memory, and generally keep those sluggish, fatigued brains of ours firing on all cylinders (or at least as many as possible!).
03. Go to sleep at the same time each night.
Getting your body into a rhythm helps reduce fatigue, so I go to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day. The occasional weekend lie-in doesn’t hurt, but if you’re constantly on an irregular routine, getting clear on bedtime and wake-up time can help.
04. No gadgets in the bedroom.
If you feel the need to have your phone next to your bed, make sure it’s set to silent and put on “airplane” mode. Ideally no phones, TV, computer, or tablet in the bedroom. It’s too easy to get distracted by them, and reading that snotty email from a colleague, or a flippant remark from a friend just before bedtime is not going to help you relax. Leave the outside world well and truly outside of the bedroom.
05. Set the morning alarm 30 minutes earlier.
I know this sounds ridiculous when you’re already exhausted, but if you roll out of bed late and then proceed to rush around like a headless chicken to get yourself to work, or to get the kids to school, or whatever commitment you have, you’re draining all your energy quickly and that leaves you struggling for the whole day. If you give yourself the time and space to get ready leisurely and introduce a morning routine that supports you, fatigue won’t have such a detrimental effect on your day.
06. Take a nap during the day.
Sometimes there’s just no choice, right? Your body insists on a nap, and yet we too often fight this feeling and berate ourselves for the need. Despite their misbehavior, our bodies are incredible machines and we need to give them more trust and respect and listen to them. If your body is telling you to sleep, if you can, sleep.
07. Get regular blood tests.
Fatigue is an extremely common problem, and it can have many other causes. I regularly have my thyroid, my iron levels, ferritin levels (stored iron), B-12 and Vitamin D checked. I actually have to supplement for many different vitamins because I have a J-pouch and no colon. I found that these tests were helpful prior to my J-pouch surgery too and they often gave me a lead on any increase in my fatigue.
08. Use a daylight lamp.
Many of us are now moving into winter and this is a time of year when fatigue seems to go deeper and have a bigger impact. The changes in temperature and light really hit us with chronic illness hard. I found that one of these daylight lamps really helped at bedtime and in the morning. Generally, unfortunately, the best ones are quite expensive, but worth the investment if you really struggle.
09. Get a sleep test at a sleep disorder clinic.
I was told for years that it was ulcerative colitis making me so exhausted and that I couldn’t possibly have sleep apnea since I’m young, thin and don’t snore. It turns out when I did eventually get a sleep test, I was found to have obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep clinics diagnose all sorts of things, including sleep apnea, restless legs, insomnia and so much more – it’s always worth investigating.
10. Exercise daily.
I know, it’s so easy to not exercise as the effort alongside fatigue is so very hard, but exercise definitely helps and you’ll quickly start to feel the benefits. If you’re not exercising start today, but start small and steady, just five minutes of walking or stretching is fine. My doctor recommended I start with five minutes a day and build up by a minute a week from there. I followed this advice after my major bowel surgery in 2013 and my health dramatically improved.
11. Get out in the fresh air.
Getting out into the fresh air and natural light, even if it's a little grey and overcast, will help you feel much better. A simple five-minute walk outside can make a huge difference to your day.
12. Drink more water.
Many of us are walking around dehydrated. If you feel thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated. Drink water little and often to keep yourself well hydrated, as this can play a huge part in fatigue. Some nutritionists recommend drinking eight glasses of water (or other liquid) a day. If you have a j-pouch (like me) or an ileostomy, you may need extra support with an oral rehydration solution mix to maintain electrolytes.