One thing those living with chronic illness seem to have in common is fatigue. Sometimes it’s manageable, but sometimes it’s beyond our ability to even lift our heads from our pillow, despite a long night’s sleep. As someone living with the added complication of sleep apnea, and the also common problem of chronic pain, sleep has been challenging for me for many years.
I have NO problem going to sleep. Oh sweet bedtime, I LOVE my bed and can even be found quite happily crawling into it at all sorts of times of the day, if given the chance, but regardless of the amount of sleep I get I rarely feel refreshed, recharged and ready to go, go, go. If only.
I know I’m not alone and it’s likely you struggle too, so I thought I’d share 12 things that I do to get the best quality sleep possible. In my experience they (sadly) don’t cure fatigue, but every little bit of help is worth it and has definitely reduced my levels of fatigue.
1. Develop 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 wind down with a bath in Epsom salts – essential oils and lighted candles get bonus points! Followed by a slow massage of moisturizing lotion before crawling into bed in clean PJ’s with a good book.
2. Read each day.
Reading is good for us on so many different levels. I read every night for at least 30 minutes. I’m one of these people who has three or four books on the go 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!)
3. Stick to the same bed time.
Getting your body into a rhythm helps, so going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day is the best thing for it. The occasional weekend lie in doesn’t hurt, and I’m willing to bet that the late nights (early mornings) are already a memory of other times, but if you’re still in an irregular routine, getting clear on bed time and wake up time will help.
4. No gadgets in the bedroom.
If you feel the need to have your phone in your bedroom make sure it’s silent and put into “do not disturb” 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.
5. Set your morning alarm 30 minutes earlier than normal.
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.
6. Take cat naps.
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 you’re body is telling you to sleep, if you can, sleep.
7. Regular blood tests to check elements that can affect fatigue.
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.
8. 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 hits we 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.
9. 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 a little grey and overcast will help you feel much better. A simple five minute walk could make a huge difference to your day.
12. Drink more water.
It’s too easy for us to walk around dehydrated. If you feel thirsty you’re already slightly dehydrated. Drink little and often to keep yourself well hydrated as this plays a huge part in fatigue. Scientists recommend eight glasses of water (or other liquid) a day. If you have a J-pouch like me, or an ostomy, you might need extra support with your dehydration with an oral rehydration solution, so be sure to always have some handy.