Speak to anyone with chronic illness and they’ll know exactly what painsomnia is. It’s night after night of not sleeping or very broken sleep, days of odd nap times that can last for hours so you wake up wondering where and who you are!
Unfortunately what this does is break down our sleep routine, leaving us with a mixed up body clock that has no idea of the time and is unable to differentiate between day and night. I’ve had some of my most awake and alert hours when the rest of the world is asleep.
After about four years of insomnia which then turned into painsomnia I honestly thought I was screwed. There was no way of putting this right again, this was just the way I roll now. And then I attended a Pain Self Management Programme at my local hospital. It’s run by a team of physio, nurses and counsellors. And for the first time they have me an inkling of hope that I could beat this.
They repeated many times “it’s simply down to sleep hygiene”. And I’m gobsmacked this is working, but it is. So I wanted to share. I know how many of my online RD friends suffer with poor sleep, and it makes us feel worse in many ways. So, here’s what has worked for me…..
(Just bear in mind these are my tips, and although I’ve pulled from what I’ve learned on the course this is definitely not hospital or medical advice)
1. Set a regular bedtime. I now get into bed at around 11pm pm each night. Not to sleep, but to relax.
2. Put down the phone! I don’t allow myself on my phone or tablet after 11pm – it really does keep your brain over stimulated instead of allowing it to wind down.
3. Hide the clock. Yes I’m serious 🙂 Turn it away or remove it from the bedroom. When we can’t sleep we constantly time check, which just gives us another thing to worry about “oh no I’ve only got 4-3-2 hours then the alarm goes off” Familiar?
4. Ditch the sleeping tablets. They help you drop off initially, they do not help you sleep.
5. Ditch caffeine. I drink decaff tea and coffee, but hadn’t given my diet coke habit a thought! I stopped drinking it two months ago, the difference has been very noticeable.
6. Get comfortable. Really think about this. I now have an arrangement of 6 normal pillows, one bolster and one wedge in my bed, but it supports my joints and it’s comfortable!
7. Stop napping in the day time. Believe me I know how very hard this is. And on flare days I chuck this out of the window. But as a rule try and stay awake. Take regular rest breaks instead of naps.
8. Use relaxation tapes or relaxing music once you’re in bed. Make sure you’re breathing deeply and evenly. Watch some relaxing TV if you want – this is about resting and winding down.
My TV and my stereo in the bedroom both have ‘sleep’ functions, so I can drift off to sleep, and they will turn themselves off, so no being woken by loud adverts or wasting electricity.
I kind of trick my psyche by saying I’m going to bed to relax and get comfortable – you can’t force sleep and trying is the worst thing you can do.
What it’s really important to remember is that sleep patterns are a learned skill. What’s the first thing we train babies to do? Sleep at regular times. It’s not something we instinctively know, we had to learn about bed times and waking up times.
So it can be relearned! It takes about two months to establish a regular sleep routine, so don’t expect overnight success. I’m two months in and it’s already making a difference to how I feel during the day. The fatigue is just a tiny bit more manageable. At the moment I’m just focusing on sleep times, I’m not worried about regular waking up times – one thing at a time, right?!
Have I been perfect every night? Hell no! But…. I’m carrying on. A few nights ago I woke up, I had no idea what time it was as the clock was turned away. So I rolled over, got comfortable and used my breathing to relax again. The night before this had worked and I went back to sleep. This time no. So I got up. It was 4am, I made a cup of decaff, sat and looked at my phone for a while then got back into bed, where I drifted back off to sleep. I still had one completely sleepless night last week, but one is so much better than three or four. Some nights I still sleep on the sofa, but – I sleep well, so I don’t let it worry me!
For me the biggest thing has been to stop stressing about not sleeping – it’s the most unhelpful thing you can do! And that’s particularly important during flares – I’ll say again these ‘rules’ do not apply during flares, do whatever you normally do to get through!
Interestingly one thing I have realised from being away recently is that actually my bed isn’t very comfortable. It’s too soft for me, which does not help my back. Hopefully I can replace this soon, it could be the final piece of the sleep puzzle 🙂