Sleep, food, and water are not optional — they are all necessary for life. Skip a meal or feel thirsty, and you can easily remedy the situation. Yet for many of us living with chronic illness, getting restorative sleep can be quite challenging.
Never Underestimate the Power of Sleep
The simple act of sleeping is actually very powerful. Sleep affects virtually all aspects of our body. Sleep is not only necessary for the health of our organs, bones, and muscles, but for theproper functioning of our brain.
Our brains are like computers; they process vast quantities of data during the day, and then organize, maintain, and delete unnecessary data at night.
Prior to being treated by a sleep physician, I perceived sleep as a chore that I despised. My nighttime routine was filled with pain from MS and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), as well as vivid nightmares and hypnagogic hallucinations from narcolepsy.
While living in denial, instead of going to bed, I would devise ‘urgent’ projects that I needed to complete before bed. Eventually I would fall asleep in front of the computer, face down on the desk. If I woke up during the night, I would stay up and resume using the computer. I was not even giving myself a fighting chance to get quality rest!
Sleep Hygiene – Or How to Get Some Shut Eye
Researchers often discuss sleep hygiene — a fancy term for the techniques that help you get restorative sleep. Despite my initial reluctance to place more restrictions on my daily routines, I agreed to give them a try. Over time these practices, along with medications, have really helped.
Go to bed and wake up the same time each day. Although this can be frustrating, it is very important for regulating your internal clock.
Avoid large meals before bed. Gravity is working against our digestive system and greatly disrupts sleep, even if you don’t consciously realize it.
Try to get some exercise. No one expects you to be an Olympic champion. Exercise in a way that feels comfortable to you. It reduces stress, and the motion can help loosen stiff and painful limbs (it does for me!).
Limit bright lighting near bedtime. Electronic devices are notorious for producing lighting effects that tricks our brains into thinking it is still daylight. For many of us, this effect can impact the quality of sleep.
Time your fluid intake. Drinking plenty of water seems to be at the top of everyone’s list of healthy practices. Bladder challenges from MS have caused me to alter my fluid consumption so that I drink more early in the day.
Consider naps. MS and Narcolepsy have made it mandatory of me to nap on a daily basis. My physicians have recommended taking shorter, but more frequent naps whenever practical and it’s helped to manage my fatigue.