First off, some of you may be wondering, “What in the world is sleep hygiene?” Sleep hygiene is a set of habits and behaviors that are aimed at developing healthy sleep patterns.
The impact of sleep on our bodies and minds is colossal. Without adequate sleep, our physical, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional functioning can take a hit. In my background of mental and behavioral health, this is something we teach relentlessly.
In addition to POTS, I also have narcolepsy with cataplexy (in my face). Growing up, I didn’t have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Even as a young adult, I was usually out the moment my head hit the pillow; often times, I couldn’t remember laying my head on the pillow. With time, my sleep has gradually become disrupted, exacerbating my narcolepsy and POTS during the day.
With much effort toward sleep hygiene (and the right POTS medications), my sleep is slowly restoring. From that, I have found other struggles are beginning to fall into line as well. It is with this progress that I am prompted to share sleep hygiene because everyone can benefit. For those without chronic illness reading this, I ask for your patience as I input tips for the chronic illness community and the unique struggles faced. Here are the 10 I find most important.
- Blue Light. We live in a fast paced, instantaneous world of electronics and technology. Computers, tablets, phones, television. They all emit a blue light that acts as a stimulating agent to our brains. Limit use of these devices in the hours prior to bedtimes. Yes, that means no falling asleep to the television on. It prevents you from reaching all the stages of sleep and can disrupt sleep. Some newer phones have the option to turn off this blue light. I keep it turned off 100% of the time (for sleep and sensitivity to light).
- Caffeine Intake. Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine should be limited in the hours before bedtime.
- Sticking to a Schedule. I know. How boring. Going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same times each day (weekends too) assists our bodies and brains in sleep. This is not to say to be rigid and put off a meaningful event because it doesn’t not fit perfectly. Life is messy. Take this in stride and make it work for you. For me, I have to be a bit more focused on this one because of the impact on me. Make this work for you, not against you.
- Develop a sleep ritual. A sleep ritual allows the brain to learn to prepare for sleep as you are preparing your physical body. Aside from the normal preparation (brushing teeth, washing face, etc.), what are some habits specific to you? For me, this ritual includes a cup of warm tea (chamomile and sleepy time are favorites) or cold milk, a salty snack, reading, and praying with gratitude. Being absolutely present and doing these activities in the same (or similar order) each day will help your brain begin to learn that sleep is next. For Spoonies with brain fog, have someone help you write down your ritual. If I don’t refer to my list, I will always forget something. When I cannot sleep, I read. I try my best not to read in bed. If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something else until you’re tired. Even if you’re a reader like me, get up and sit somewhere else to read. For Spoonies, I understand getting up from bed is not always realistic. I often times slide off the bed to the floor and read on the floor. Its not ideal, but its how I make it work without help so I don’t have to wake my husband.
- Sleep Environment. The environment in which you sleep plays a large role too. Your bed should be used for sleep (and sex) only. A cool temperature and a dark, quiet room without electronics (remember no TV before bed) are important. I also incorporate our essential oils into our sleep environment. Bedding, mattress comfort and clutter are also important. You want to walk into your bedroom and feel relaxation.
- Physical Activity. The research surrounding the benefits of physical activity is abounding. One of those benefits is better sleep. There are various recommendations about what time of day is best. Again, do what works for you. Personally, trial and error has taught me that I cannot work out too late in evening because it energizes me, making sleep elusive.
- Diet. I cannot stress this one enough. I know from experience. I spent years eating fast food and not taking care of my diet with the excuse that I worked out intensely. Drink enough water. Limit your sugar intake (this can also help day time energy and alertness as well as promote healthy skin). I try to take everything in balance. While we do try to clean eat, we are known to order pizza regularly, or throw preservative free frozen lasagna in the oven when I am too sick to cook.
- Limit Naps. Try to limit day time naps to one and try not to take it too close to bedtime. Limit nap times to 20 minutes. For Spoonies, this one can be irrelevant for us because of the overwhelming fatigue and daytime sleepiness (two very different things).
- Sunshine. This one is easily my favorite. Get in the sun! Natural sunlight is healthy for us. If your bedroom allows for darkness at night and natural sunlight to flood in the mornings, lucky you! That’s the goal. Spoonies, while we may not leave the house most days, it is important to get outside. Often times, Duchess and I sit outside doing nothing but sitting.
- Process Appropriately. Unresolved issues and emotions cannot just be forgotten about or compartmentalized. They will continue to manifest in adverse ways, one of them being poor sleep, difficulty falling and staying asleep. Know that you are stronger for choosing to move through something and learn from it rather than going around it.
I hope this is helpful for you so that we can all sleep without a care, much like Miss Duchess.
Vaya con Dios.