Around 3 am, I can go on any one of my Chronic Illness Facebook groups and find people chatting. What is the conversations about? The inability to sleep or what is called Insomnia. Unfortunately, this symptom is prevalent in most Chronic Illnesses and it seems traditional treatments do not work for most people. Being a part of these conversations, and living with the issue myself, made me start researching the connection between Insomnia and Chronic Illness.
What is Insomnia?
Before we delve into the connection between Insomnia and Chronic Illness, let’s determine what Insomnia is. According to the Mayo Clinic, Insomnia is, “a sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.”
The Mayo Clinic also includes the following symptoms that are common with Insomnia:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Waking up during the night
- Waking up too early
- Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
- Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
- Irritability, depression or anxiety
- Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
- Increased errors or accidents
- Ongoing worries about sleep
Insomnia and Chronic Illness – Is There a Connection?
I discovered that there are several factors that make Insomnia among Chronic Illness patients a prevalent problem.
1. Chronic Pain
Chronic Illnesses such as Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis and many others include Chronic Pain as the main symptom of the illness. This pain makes going to sleep difficult and staying asleep even harder. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep will also make you more sensitive to pain. Therefore, creating a vicious cycle.
If you read the side effects of your medications, the vast majority will include difficulty sleeping on the list. Medications such as over-the-counter medications, antidepressants, pain medications, blood pressure medications, and many others can disrupt your ability to sleep.
People who do not have Chronic Illness can stop taking these medications and try something else. Unfortunately, most Chronic Illness patients do not have this choice because often there are no other choices. It seems that if a medication is working for the illness that we must “put up” with the resulting Insomnia the medications cause.
Having an illness that has life altering implications, that has no cure and possibly no treatment that really helps is stressful. Many people with Chronic Illness have problems at work, if they are able to work, and this can bring financial stress. Relationships can suffer because of Chronic Illness that can lead to isolation. In fact, feeling sick all the time in itself is stressful. All of these stressors combine and can make sleeping nearly impossible at times.
I am very comfortable saying there is a connection between Insomnia and Chronic Illness. When I look at the factors listed above and add in my personal experience with people that live with Chronic Illness, I have to conclude that there is indeed a connection. So, what can be done about it?
Helpful Tips for Insomnia
If you do an online search for Tips to reduce Insomnia, you will find just about every idea under the sun. The ones I have listed below are the most common ones that I have found.
Books about Insomnia:
1. Have a Nightly Routine
I had to chuckle as I wrote this because most people, myself included, have a hard time planning and being able to follow the schedule. The nature of many Chronic Illnesses can make life unpredictable. But if you can set a nightly routine that provides a degree of flexibility, it can help with getting to sleep.
2. Limit Screen Time in the Evenings
Between me and you, I feel like the biggest hypocrite for even typing that! The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off screens about 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep. Why? The blue light in the screens make your body think it is time to stay awake. Decreasing evening screen time can make it easier to get to sleep.
3. Be Careful with Nighttime Snacks
If you have ever tried to sleep while you are hungry, you know that it is typically not a restful night. For me, it might also include dreams of food and a lot of tossing and turning. It is much better to have a snack and sleep well. Just be careful which snack you reach for. Eating the wrong things during the evening can wake your body up.
According the Everyday Health, “The best bedtime snacks contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body make serotonin, a chemical in the brain that aids in the sleep process.” Some of the best snacks to eat include low-fat cheese, a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk, eggs, a peanut butter sandwich and yogurt with granola. Stay away from snacks that are high in sugar and spicy snacks.
4. Don’t Take Naps that are Too Long
Naps are a great way to catch up on missed sleep. Who doesn’t love a good nap? The problem comes when your naps are too long. Naps should be no more than 30 minutes or it may hinder your body’s ability to rest at night. Also do not take naps too late in the day.
While this recommendation may need to be adjusted based on the physical needs due to Chronic Illness, it is best not to take really long naps during the day. I know that with my Chronic Migraines, sleeping is sometimes the only thing that helps. On these days, I do not pay attention to this recommendation and sleep as long as my body needs to.
5. Do not Watch the Clock
When you can’t sleep, the worst thing you can do is watch the clock. This leads to thoughts of everything you have to do the next day and how tired you will be doing it. Instead, do something to take your mind off of sleep. Turn the clock around and do not look at it. Just tell yourself that you are going to lay and rest if nothing else. Do not bring added anxiety into the equation!
It is important to remember that what works for some will not work for others. Finding what works best for you is imperative. You may find that something that totally breaks the “rules” is what totally works for you.
Personally, playing some Solitaire always seems to relax my mind (yes, this breaks rule number 2 but it works for me almost every time). Others recommend reading but this doesn’t work for me because I get too involved in the book and can’t stop reading.
A Final Thought
I have found that finding a resource of support such as Chronic Illness Facebook Groups is a great way to not feel alone in the struggles caused by Chronic Illness. They are easy to find, just do a search on Facebook for Chronic Illness group or search for your particular illness. Knowing you are not alone is empowering on those really tough days and nights.
Being a part of these groups, is what helped me discover that Insomnia and Chronic Illness are connected. This knowledge has helped me face it without stressing about it.
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Disclaimer: This blog post provides general information and first hand accounts about a serious medical condition. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice.