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Good Sleep Practices for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

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Reprinted with the kind permission of Cort Johnson and Health Rising.

We’re not used to thinking of good sleep ‘protocols’, but the fact is there are ways to go to sleep that help you sleep better and ways to go to sleep that cause you to sleep less well. With sleep problems rampant in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, doing everything you can do to snatch as much deep sleep as you can only makes sense.

It turns out that the way you enter sleep makes a difference in how deep of a sleep you get. If you enter sleep in a deeply relaxed state, you’re more likely to experience the deep sleep stages that are so rejuvenating. If, on the other hand, you enter sleep in a frazzled state, you’re more likely to experience fitful, unrefreshing sleep.

Good sleep practices aren’t ‘the answer’ to the sleep problems in ME/CFS, but they can definitely help.


Raise the Head of Your Bed Several Inches
Simply raising the head of your bed 10-30 degrees can be very effective for some people and it can increase blood volume. Find out more here.

Keep the Light Levels Low

Because darkness activates the release of melatonin, which tells the brain to go to sleep, keep your light levels low in your bedroom. Use curtains or blinds to block streetlights or consider using a mask.  Instead of using overhead lights, use lamps with low wattage or clip-on reading lights.

Use Your Bedroom Only to Sleep
One of the goals of sleep hygiene is to get your body/mind to enter into ‘sleep mode’ when you enter your bedroom. You can do this by removing from the room objects such as the television and computer that your mind associates with activity.

Background noises generated by a fan or radio with sound generators (rainstorms, waves, wildlife) or sleep meditation tapes can be very soothing.

Invest in a Really Good Mattress
Find a firm but comfortable mattress that you feel comfortable with.  The Cuddle Ewe sleep pad is another alternative that can give you relief from fibromyalgia trigger points that can keep you awake.


FibroMapp App
Consider using Health Rising’s FibroMapp app to help you monitor your sleep and determine how it’s affecting your symptoms.

Nap During the Day – Not After Dinner
When you nap, do it anyplace but your bedroom. You want to train your mind to associate deep sleep with your bedroom – not napping.

Take a nice warm bath several hours before going to sleep to get into a relaxed state. Studies indicate that insomniacs sleep better when they take a bath several hours before sleep. The slow cooling was believed to induce sleep-triggering chemicals in the body. Dr. Teitelbaum highly recommends Epsom salts in your bath water.

Develop a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Some people with ME/CFS/FM feel better at night so they stay up later …and later … and later until their normal sleep circadian rhythm is wrecked.  Train your body to go to sleep at a certain time.

Exercise If You Can, But Don’t Overdo It
It’s simple – exercise is a sleep inducer; lying in bed is a sleep reducer.  Try to get in as much exercise as you can without exacerbating your symptoms. Too much exertion can put you into the ‘tired but wired’ state that makes it difficult to attain meaningful sleep.

Knock Off the TV and Computer Games Before Bed
Engage in less stimulating activities two hours before bed.

Stay away from liquids before bedtime to avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Do Calming Exercises Just Before Bed
Dr. Friedman found that 30 minutes or more of relaxation exercises (focused breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization exercises) help ME/CFS and FM patients sleep better and have more energy the next day.

Write Down Disturbing Thoughts in a Notebook
Johannes Starke recommends writing down your to-do list and other thoughts that are keeping you up to put your mind at ease just prior to sleep. Then tell your brain that ‘that issue’ has been taken care of for now and it’s okay to sleep.

Waking up in the Middle of the Night
Dr. Friedberg recommends trying relaxation exercises (focused breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery or listening to a relaxation audiotape).  If that doesn’t work within 30 minutes, then get out of bed and into a comfortable chair and try again. When you start to feel sleepy, get back in bed. If you don’t go to sleep, then start the process over again.

About the Author: Cort Johnson has had ME/CFS for over 30 years. The founder of Phoenix Rising and Health Rising, Cort has contributed hundreds of blogs on chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and their allied disorders over the past 10 years. Find more of Cort’s and other bloggers’ work at Health Rising.

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