Improve Your Sleep Hygiene and Restore Yourself
With the holidays approaching, you might have a once-a-year chance to enjoy some down time to catch up on some long overdue rest. Take a few moments to see if you need a snooze-fest this season. Maybe it’s a good time to dedicate yourself to planning some restorative self-care or evaluating your sleep habits – or lack of. I realize this sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem, but it can really do wonders if you can master the art of restorative rest. Think like a bear going inside for a winter hibernation - saving your energy and resources for the new year.
It seems like insomnia is a modern epidemic for everyone, especially for people with chronic pain and illness. Whether you deal with insomnia or you’re chronically sleep-deprived, it’s likely that poor sleep is affecting your life and overall health. Achieving restful sleep is challenging for many EDS patients and is for me personally. Many of us rely on sleep aids or doctor prescribed medications to help us “knock ourselves out” allowing our hypertonic muscles to relax.
We know that sleep deprivation feels terrible, but it can also derail all your other efforts and waste your precious energy. Many EDS patients cannot sleep well due to pain, restless autonomic responses and so much more going on in the body. You likely have noticed that if you’ve had just one bad night’s sleep, you feel sluggish, heavy, and slow, as though you’re trying to walk through syrup.
As well as making you feel bad, a chronic lack of sleep can have physical effects on your brain. Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to process and store memories leading to increased brain fog and increase your risk of long-term memory problems, including an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Two proteins associated with Alzheimer's, beta amyloid, and the tau protein, increase with chronic poor sleep. There is some developing research in laboratory tests on mice that sleep helps to clear these proteins from the brain.
The good news is that there are things anyone can do to improve their sleep health to keep their brain in better shape. (There are tips specific to EDS below).
1. Find Out Your Own Best Sleep Levels
Everyone has their own individual sleep needs. Famously, British politicians Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher needed very little sleep, but only getting four or five hours a night is not recommended for most people. Whether you need seven hours or ten, find out what is enough sleep for you.
Enough sleep means waking up without needing an alarm, feeling rested and energetic, and not needing coffee to get you through the day.
2. Prioritize Your Sleep Hygiene
Set alarms or timers to create a regular schedule of rest periods according to your needs whenever and however works for you. Studies have also shown that the hour or two before bedtime has a powerful effect on the quality of your sleep. Schedule in some proper downtime and stop using blue light-emitting devices like smartphones, computers, tablets, and television an hour or so before you plan to go to bed. Try instead to read a book, take a relaxing bath, or listen to calming music—or all three—instead. This habit can be a game-changer for EDS patients to achieve regular rest.
3. Don’t Lie There Trying to Sleep
This is a big challenge for me. I flip and flop with thoughts raging in my head. I’ve learned that if you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, to get out of bed and do something else. Lying in bed, getting stressed because you can’t sleep is a recipe for poor sleep and insomnia. You’re also likely to start brooding, mulling over problems or running over the events of the day. Get up do something relaxing like reading or meditating until you feel sleepy or enjoy a hot cup of tea. It’s okay to do this more than once, even multiple times. Remember, you’re trying to train your brain to think of bed as a sleeping place, not a thinking place. I often say to myself, “get out of your head and into your bed.” Or try writing down what’s rattling around in your mind on paper to allow yourself to let it go without forgetting what you want to recall.
Benefits of Better Sleep
1. You’ll think better
Studies have shown that your brain functions much better on regular restful sleep. Sleep is the downtime your brain needs to do essential chores like consolidating memories, processing emotions and recovering from the day’s processing. We all need a boost to our brain fog!
2. You’ll perform better
You need to be performing at your best at work or navigating the medical system or just in your daily life - and for that, you need to have your brain operating at its best. That means getting more REM sleep which is necessary to be able to solve problems and come up with solutions. Did you know most people spend only 20% of our sleep time in REM sleep on average? Find ways to foster a deeper level of rest and recouperation and it will repay you in spades. Consider trying an app with a wearable device such as the Oura ring to track and measure your sleep and target improving your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). If that’s a new term to you, look it up.
3. Sleep helps keep you healthier
Scientists have found that chronic sleep deprivation affects the functioning of your genes. Sleep is necessary for proper gene function including the genes that influence your ongoing immunity, inflammation and how well you deal with stress. I believe we can use anything possible to reduce our body’s inflammation and chronic state of hyper-aroused stress responses related to hypermobility, illness and dysautonomia. I think a preferred doctor’s orders should be, “Take a nap and call me in the morning.”
4. You’ll age better
Sleep is super important to produce collagen which is crucial for skin repair and cell renewal as well as skin hydration, not to mention repairing our faulty connective tissue. So, do your tissues a favor and get some good sleep if only occasionally! Even a few nights a week can make an impact. We don’t want to have more issues with our tissues, do we?
5. You may live longer
Getting enough sleep is crucial for the body’s cells to renew and repair. All of your body’s systems use the downtime of sleep to recalibrate and process, getting rid of waste products and strengthening cell walls. Your immune system can recharge and prepare itself better to fight off disease and illness. Your body will be in much better shape to deal with the stresses of the day.
Even if you're finding it difficult to get a full eight hours, science has found that regular cat naps to supplement your night’s sleep can help. Harvard researchers found that the risk of heart disease was reduced by thirty percent by having daily naps. So, take that siesta when you can.
Tips for EDS Patients on Sleeping Better
Specifically for patients with EDS, improving sleep hygiene is vital for managing symptoms and aiding recovery. Here are some basic tips and recommendations:
Establish a Routine: Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day to regulate your sleep cycle.
Create a Restful Environment: Ensure your bedroom is comfortable in terms of temperature and is free from noise and light disturbances.
Support Yourself: Use tools like an eye mask and set up pillows and/or braces for support. My PT suggested a ‘pillow in front and back approach’ while lying on my side, plus adding a pillow between my knees to nest me for rest that’s stable and supported.
Avoid Stimulants and Heavy Meals: Stay away from caffeine, sugar, heavy, or spicy foods before bedtime.
Regular Exercise: Engage in gentle exercise such as an after dinner stroll, but avoid vigorous activities within 1-2 hours of bedtime.
Pace Yourself: Manage daily activities to avoid overexertion, resulting fatigue and pain as best you can.
There’s an App for That: For sleep tracking, free apps such as 'Sleep Cycle' and 'Sleep as Android' can be useful. These apps track sleep patterns and provide insights into sleep quality, helping users make informed adjustments to their routines. My personal fave is Calm – an app with meditation, soundscapes, and sleep stories. Also see the expansive list of sleep-related apps and resources below.
In summary, common sense tells us that restorative rest is crucial for chronic illness recovery as it allows the body to repair itself, reduces fatigue, and improves overall well-being. But obtaining good sleep hygiene and regular sleep patterns can be hard and puts a snooze on our life. It can be quite difficult, but trying needs to be an important part of your care as a key healthy habit with rippling benefits. When you get enough sleep every night, you improve your overall health, probably your relationships with your improved mood, and ultimately your ability to tackle zebra life! So, stop skimping out on sleep and make it your priority tonight!
Check out these Sleep Apps
Fortunately, there are several resources available to help people struggling with sleep, including sleep apps. These apps offer soothing music, calming meditations and even features like sleep tracking to help users fall asleep, stay asleep and maintain healthy sleep habits. To help determine the best sleep apps of 2023, Forbes Health analyzed 20 sleep apps across the marketplace, ranking them based on factors like membership costs, sleep tracking capabilities, customization options, ease of use and more. Here are some of the best:
BetterSleep: Known for its wide range of sleep sounds, stories, and meditations designed to improve sleep quality.
Sleepiest: Offers a variety of soothing sounds and bedtime stories to help users fall asleep faster.
ShutEye: A sleep tracker that also includes an extensive library of relaxing sounds.
Breethe: This app offers guided meditations and soothing music, along with sleep stories.
Sleep Cycle: Analyzes sleep patterns and wakes you up in your lightest sleep phase, which is the natural way to wake up feeling rested and relaxed.
Pzizz: Utilizes psychoacoustic principles to create sound sequences that improve sleep quality.
Mintal Tracker: Offers sleep tracking and analysis features.
Slumber: Features a variety of sleep-inducing stories and meditations.
Oura Ring App: Particularly recommended for its detailed sleep tracking capabilities when used with the Oura Ring wearable.
Pillow: Especially popular among Apple Watch users, offering detailed analysis and a user-friendly interface.
SleepScore: Provides long-term tracking and helps create a path for better sleep for a subscription fee.
SleepWatch: Another great option for Apple Watch users, known for its comprehensive sleep analysis.
These apps vary in terms of features and focus, so the best choice may depend on individual needs and preferences.