Holistic coaching, supporting and empowering people with ME/CFS (S.E.I.D), Fibromyalgia and other chronic illness towards better health, happiness and rediscovered dreams. (Myalgic Encephalomeylitis, Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
Tackling Sleep Disturbance is a Priority for ME/CFS Self-help
Sleep disturbance is a very common symptom of ME and can take various different forms. It can mean struggling to get off to sleep, waking up regularly in the night, having vivid disturbing dreams or waking up feeling un-refreshed.Unfortunately it is a symptom that helps to perpetuate the illness. It is during deep sleep that the body works most efficiently at tackling disease and repairing damage. It seems that we just don’t seem to get enough of this refreshing kind of deep sleep so it is little wonder that our immune system can reach a state of inefficiency and malfunction. Tackling sleep disturbance is linked to a good prognosis. You are less likely to make any kind of improvement if you do not tackle this aspect of the illness; you are more likely to get better if you do! Getting a good night’s sleep is unlikely to suddenly cure you of ME/CFS but it will help you help you feel better. And along with other ways of managing the illness you might eventually give your immune system enough of a break that it finally manages to overcome the illness. I believe that that’s how I recovered the first time round!
Beware though; sleeping too much can also cause problems. It can make you sluggish and lethargic. You are less likely to feel like engaging in the few activities that are still within your ability, and less likely to enjoy their rewards. This reduced motivation can even, eventually result in depression. Reduced activity can also impact on your circulatory systems, allowing a build-up of toxins and putting an added stress on an already inefficient immune system. If you naturally wake up after 7 or more hours sleep then you have probably had enough (unless you are in an acute infection phase of the illness). If you turn over and go back to sleep you are then likely to have more vivid dreams and then when you wake again later you are likely to feel groggy and less refreshed. If this seems familiar to you, try getting up when you first wake up. See if it makes any difference to your energy and motivation throughout the day.
Many of the misinformed professionals who see ME/CFS as purely a psychological illness, have the over simplistic view that not sleeping well or sleeping too much will result in chronic feelings of fatigue. They have a point, our poor sleep patterns do add to our tiredness, but this isn’t the basis of our illness! When I studied Psychology I was often struck by how it seemed to be the science of stating the obvious, but ignored the rich complexity of unique human experience. I believe that ME/CFS is a physical illness, but I also believe in holistic health, that there is always an interplay between the physical and the psychological. Sleep disturbance can be physically linked to the chemicals involved in our compromised immune response (cytokines), and to overactive sympathetic nervous activity. However I also believe that there are many practical (behavioural) things that we can do to improve the quality of our sleep. eg. meditation can calm our sympathetic nervous activity. Good sleep hygiene (medical speak for what you can do to improve your sleep pattern) may not be enough for everybody though. It may be necessary to take some kind of medication to ensure that you get enough deep sleep, at least for a while. In the next couple of weeks I will talk about sleep disturbance self-help both in terms of what we can do and what we can take.
Have you managed to improve the quality of your sleep? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear from you so please comment!