Note: This article is reproduced with kind permission from Yvonne Keeny,* founder of the Fibromyalgia Coalition International and editor of Fibromyalgia Solutions magazine.
Do you lie awake at night, wondering why you can’t go to sleep? Fibromyalgia can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep, and yet sleep is essential for people with this chronic illness.
A great night’s sleep is not out of reach. Following these simple steps will help you attain a restful night and wake up feeling relaxed and rested.
1. Check your diet.
What you eat, drink, and do around bedtime can affect your chance of falling—and staying—asleep. Caffeine, sugar, and tobacco stimulate the body and mind.
An hour and a half before bed: No alcohol or nicotine; and no exercise that makes you sweat. Stimulants such as tobacco should be eliminated in order to get a good night’s sleep. Likewise, sugar stimulates the brain, keeping you awake.
While some people think alcohol will help them fall asleep, it actually does more harm than good. As the alcohol is absorbed into the system, the body goes through a mini-withdrawal that fragments and destroys the second half of sleep—and you are likely to wake up after the alcohol effect has worn off.
Three hours before bed: No caffeinated beverages or pills, and no eating (this helps avoid reflux issues that can disturb sleep). Remember that caffeine stays in your system six to eight hours after you consume it, and it does fragment sleep.
2. Exercise regularly.
This does not mean running the Boston Marathon! Gentle exercises can be beneficial. A good tip for nodding off easily at night: moderate exercise in the morning. Even stretching for a few moments in the morning will get your blood moving and make your body feel better. Taking a gentle yoga class just once a week, for example, will give you ideas of ways to stretch at home and relax before bed. Set small goals for yourself and pay attention to how exercise makes you feel as you are doing it.
3. Prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Excessive light exposure in the evenings prevents your body from releasing the melatonin that makes you feel sleepy. Light exposure not only refers to lamps and other lighting, but also to television and computer screens.
A warm bath will help you relax and cooling down afterward will help prepare your body for sleep. Wait at least an hour after your bath to go to bed so your body has time to cool down. Adding a cup of Epsom salt will help muscles relax and prevent cramping during the night.
Remove any makeup and slip into comfortable, non-restrictive clothing before reading or doing something relaxing such as knitting. Try to keep from thinking about work or things that upset you. This time is about relaxation. Turn down loud music and turn off TVs and computers about an hour before bed.
4. Prepare your bedroom.
Ideally, the bed is for two things and two things only. (You know what we mean.) If you have any other type of stimulus in the bedroom, such as computers, work or TV, you’re not sending your body the message that it’s time for sleep. If you want to answer e-mail, pay bills or watch TV, do that elsewhere—especially since the screens’ flickering light keeps your brain in wake-up mode.
Arrange your bedding so it offers you the most comfort. Taking proper care of your mattress, such as rotating and flipping it every season, is also important for keeping the bedroom prepared for optimum sleep.
Light and dark signal the brain when it is time to sleep and awaken. Window treatments should be heavy enough to block out light. Allowing light into the bedroom during times you should be sleeping causes your brain think it is time to be awake. Not all window treatments can block out light. Wearing an eye mask can prevent light from interfering with your sleep.
If you need to go to the bathroom during the night, try not to turn the bright lights on as light may fool your brain into thinking it is time to wake up. A small flashlight is good for this.
5. Regulate temperatures.
Scientific studies have found temperature plays a major role in sleeping. Cooler temperatures in the bedroom will foster good sleep. It is best to keep the room between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your feet are cold, use socks or a grain-filled pad heated in the microwave for a couple of minutes to ensure your feet are not the reason for your insomnia.
6. No pets allowed.
No matter how much you love your pet, you may need to banish it from the bedroom so its whimpering, jerking limbs, snoring, or other sleeping activities will not disturb your sleep.
7. Use aromatherapy.
Scents such as lavender and vanilla are calming. These can help the body relax. Since leaving aromatherapy candles burning while sleeping is dangerous, add a few drops of essential oils to a room humidifier, spray the oils on your pillow, or leave the bottle open on your nightstand. Probably the most effective way to use aromatherapy is to rub small amounts under your nose and around the temples; then run your fingers across your scalp and around your neck in a relaxing self-massage.
NOTE: People with multiple chemical sensitivities may not tolerate the use of essential oils.
8. Establish a routine.
Set a time to fall asleep and a time to wake up. Stick to this schedule, even on weekends and holidays, so your body becomes accustomed to sleeping during those hours. Sticking to a regular schedule, or at least rise within an hour of the time you get up during the week, will help set your body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock) and train you to stay on schedule even if your rhythms happen to wander, such as when you’re traveling.
Don’t sleep excessively during the day. Naps should be less than half an hour long, so you don’t have enough time to enter REM-stage sleep. If you nap too long and do enter this stage of sleep, you may have trouble falling asleep at night.
9. Relax from head to toe.
As you are ready to fall asleep, consciously relax your body starting with your head and working your way down to your toes. Concentrate on relaxing one part of your body at a time including your ears, jaws, eyes, fingers, etc. You may be amazed at how much tension you are holding without being conscious of it.
10. Get Up When You Can’t Sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, get out of bed, but don’t immerse yourself in an activity that requires a lot of concentration. Go to another room (be sure it’s notbrightly lit) and listen to some soft music, or do some type of relaxing activity. When you start to feel sleepy, head back to bed.
Now, the only other thing left to do is drift off to sleep.
* Yvonne Keeny suffered with FM and ME/CFS for over 13 years. With diet, lifestyle changes and the help of a few knowledgeable healthcare providers she has been well since 1997. Her long-term illness brought a special understanding and empathy for people with FM and ME/CFS. As a result, she started a support group in January1998 and founded the Fibromyalgia Coalition International in 2000. Keeny is editor of Fibromyalgia Solutions magazine, and wrote the Support Group Leader’s Guide as well as numerous articles for newspapers and magazines. In January 2008, Yvonne founded the Practitioners Alliance, an extraordinary group of healthcare professionals who focus on root causes of FM and ME/CFS instead of just trying to mask symptoms.