Sleep is something that most of us living with chronic illness will struggle with at times. After all, poor quality, disruptive sleep is a core symptom of illnesses such as Fibromyalgia, Lyme Disease and ME/CFS.
Which is frustrating because consistently getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important factors in improving our symptoms. Without it, our bodies do not get the opportunity to repair and recover.
Personally, I’ve worked hard on improving my sleep and, though it has taken a long time, I generally sleep well now. Particularly following my stem cell treatment.
However, one sleep issue that can rear its head every now and again is insomnia. Some nights, I can really struggle to drift off to sleep.
Insomnia Used To Be mY BIggest Sleep Issue
Insomnia actually used to be one of my biggest sleep problems. Due to my chronic illnesses (Fibromyalgia, CFS and Lyme Disease), I struggled to fall asleep and I also woke up numerous times throughout the night.
There’s nothing worse than feeling tired, going to bed then finding yourself lying there wide awake.
I’ve come to realise that I have a few insomnia triggers that I need to avoid.
Previously, these would have worsened my already existing insomnia. Now that my sleep has improved, these triggers are actually enough to cause insomnia for me.
Before I share these insomnia triggers with you, it goes without saying that it is always worth seeing your GP if you suffer from sleep issues. Underlying health issues, such as sleep apnea, may need to be ruled out.
So, without further ado, here are my insomnia triggers:
1. Eating Too Much Or THe Wrong Type OF Food Before Bed
At one point, it was very important for me to eat a short time before bed to stop me waking up in the night. I believe this was because my waking up was due to a drop in blood sugar levels.
Unfortunately for me, if I ate the wrong type of food or too much of it (and this included eating dinner too late and still feeling full by bedtime), I’d struggle to fall asleep. I could also experience additional problems, such as reflux, which in turn would disrupt my sleep.
The worst offenders were unsurprisingly carbohydrates and sugary foods. Better choices for a pre-bed snack were protein-rich snacks, such as a handful of nuts.
2. Overdoing it in the day
For many years, chronic fatigue was my most problematic symptom. Overdoing it in the day was, therefore, easy to do.
Overexerting myself would leave me feeling tired but wired. This wired buzz was likely due to putting too much stress on my adrenals and my body being knocked into “fight or flight” mode.
As you might imagine, this state is not conducive to getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is actually an energy-dependent process. It’s the time when your body repairs and recovers, which requires a reserve of energy to happen.
It’s, therefore, important to get to the end of the day with some energy left in your tank.
To overcome this, I stopped pushing myself too hard. Instead, I began to incorporate more rest into my day (including pre-emptive rest– where you rest before you need to) and made time to completely relax and switch off.
I also tried my best to follow the 80% rule. This is where you think about how much energy you can safely use in a day then expend only 80% of that.
N.B. When I was really sick, I’d follow the 50% rule and do half of what I thought I could manage. I built up from there as my body got stronger and my symptoms improved with treatment.
3. Not Doing Enough In The Day
Rather ironically, the opposite is also true. If I don’t do enough in the day this can be an insomnia trigger for me. It’s like trying to be the Goldilocks of energy management and it’s admittedly a fine balance!
One of the most challenging things about living with a variable chronic illness is that our energy changes from day to day. Some days we have more energy and others we are deeply fatigued with little left in the tank.
Bad energy days are often spent resting in bed out of necessity. However, I’ve found that if all I do is rest and nothing else, I don’t sleep well at all.
So how do I find the balance and overcome this issue? Especially when even getting out of bed is a struggle.
What I do is dependent on how I am feeling. If my body is deeply, deeply fatigued then moving or doing any form of gentle exercise can be impossible.
In that situation, I do things in the day to tire myself mentally, such as reading a book.
If I do have physical energy then incorporating movement into my day is helpful and important.
For me, this can be anything from gentle stretches to a walk to an actual exercise routine dependent on how I am doing (with the latter obviously only being applicable on very good energy days and this has only been possible for me after having stem cell therapy).
In all cases, I keep the 80% rule in mind, which applies to mental energy as much as it does to physical energy.
4. Taking Supplements at a time that doesn’t suit me
I’ve chatted before about figuring out the best time to take supplements. Previously, I never put a lot of thought into when I took supplements and went with the times that were most convenient for me.
However, I quickly learned that some supplements (such as herbs or certain vitamins) are too stimulating for me. Taking them with dinner would leave me lying wide awake come bedtime.
For example, I found taking my adaptogenic herbs at lunchtime helped me to better manage my energy throughout the day than if I took them at dinner time.
So it always pays to be mindful of this and to consider the best times to take certain supplements.
5. Drinking Caffeinated Drinks After 3 pm
This is a pretty obvious one but it’s a big one for me. Through a bit of trial and error, I’ve figured that 3 pm is my cut-off for caffeinated drinks.
Any caffeinated drinks after 3 pm are an insomnia trigger for me, even if it’s just one cup of tea. Additionally, if I drink too much tea in a day that’s a problem too.
If I want to drink tea, it’s best for me to stick to one cup in the morning. I love tea and would happily drink copious amounts of it… but my health suffers so it’s simply not worth it.
If you are having severe sleep issues I’d recommend cutting out caffeine completely.
6. Spending too much time on Technology
Spending too much time on technology in the day, be it my computer or phone, is a big insomnia trigger for me.
I’ve written before about how disruptive blue light can be for sleep. However, I find that my sleep is disrupted by too much time spent on technology regardless of the time of day I use it.
Even if I stop using technology a couple of hours before bedtime, my sleep still suffers if I’ve overdone it and spent a long time using it during the day.
I’ve had to make a conscious effort to set boundaries for how much time I spend on my computer and how much time I spend on social media on my phone.
7. A Busy Mind
I can’t be the only one who goes to bed to find I then have a million and one things going through my mind. Why does my brain suddenly decide to remind me about things the second I get into bed?
One of my strategies to combat this has been to start a bullet journal. Being more organised and writing to-do lists have been very helpful in calming my busy mind.
I also write down anything I need to remember in my bullet journal so I don’t forget, which helps with the anxiety of trying to remember.
For a while, I also kept a notepad and pen by my bed so that I could jot down anything on my mind before going to sleep.
I guess, for me, a busy mind happens when I feel like things in my life are slipping out of control. So taking steps to feel more organised on top of things is helpful.
Working on my anxiety, in general, has also been helpful. If I feel anxious and I let it fester, you can guarantee I won’t be falling asleep at night!
Mindfulness and making time in the day for relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, is really effective in reducing my anxiety. As is journalling.
8. The Slightest Bit of Light
It wasn’t until I invested in a pair of blackout curtains that I realised just how much light disrupts my sleep. Even the tiniest bit of light can be enough to keep me awake.
In addition to the blackout curtains, I have no clocks or anything that emits light switched on in the bedroom.
When I travel, I always bring a sleep mask with me so I can guarantee complete darkness.
9. Not Being At A Comfortable Temperature
Previously, temperature dysregulation was a problem symptom for me. I’d be so sensitive to any change in temperature and easily become too hot or too cold.
Although this symptom has improved greatly, I can still be sensitive to temperature. If my bedroom is not a comfortable temperature you can guarantee I’m in for a sleepless night.
I find it best to have layers on my bed so that I can easily adjust the temperature. I have a light sheet then my duvet. In the winter, I may even fold a blanket on top of my bed so I can grab it if I need something extra to keep me warm.
To combat the heat:
- Keep blinds/curtains closed during the day to keep the sun out.
- Use lightweight bed linen (such as cotton).
- Use fans to drive humid air out the room by placing them by the window.
- Invest in a cooling pad or cooling pillow insert to sleep on.
10. Food Intolerances
One of my biggest insomnia triggers (and disruptive sleep in general) is food intolerances. This one actually took me a while to figure out.
It wasn’t until I decided to follow an elimination diet in an attempt to improve my Fibromyalgia that I realised just how much certain foods can affect my sleep.
Even now, I find that if I give in and eat some dairy (which I’m intolerant to) I struggle to fall asleep and the quality of my sleep is poor.
Admittedly, food intolerances are not always easy to identify. But, if you are struggling with sleep issues it may be worth thinking about the foods you eat. Working with a qualified nutritionist is a good way to approach this.
More Blog Posts Like This:
- Fibromyalgia & sleep apnea: is there a connection?
- 3 supplements that can help to improve sleep in fibromyalgia sufferers
- Accurately track sleep with the ResMed S+
- L-theanine for Fibromyalgia: could it help to improve your disruptive sleep?
Do you share these same insomnia triggers? Or are there any others you would add to list? Let me know in the comments below.
Share on Pinterest: