Adequate rest is essential for good outcomes in chronic fatigue syndrome & fibromyalgia. During the deepest sleep our bodies release growth hormone, which repairs damaged cells and tissues. Anyone who has ever experienced a fitful night of sleep knows first hand how achy you feel the next morning. Poor sleep is associated with the pain, soreness, muscle weakness, and allodynia found in CFS & fibro.
Traditional treatment for better sleep relies heavily on pharmaceutical sleep aides like Ambien or Lunesta. While these drugs do an excellent job of initiating sleep, they are not approved for long term use and can lead to dependency. Worst of all, long term use may produce adverse effects, increase risk of death, or radically change sleep architecture in the brain. These medications can be used for great benefit on the short-term, but ultimately long-term solutions are necessary to restore some normalcy to sleep.
Having sleep difficulties since a very early age led me to try everything from counting sheep to pharmaceutical management. My sleep toolbox doth overflow! Admittedly, I still struggle sometimes to get to sleep many nights.
Below are 5 evidenced-based strategies that I have found to be most effective.
Think there’s no science behind essential oils? Think again. A recent study showed lavender oil improved sleep onset and morning wakefulness (1). Try a few dabs on your pillowcase or in a diffuser.
Night time exposure to artificial light is a leading cause of sleep problems in our modern world. Blue wavelengths in particular block the production of melatonin and keep us wired late into the night (2). Foregoing electronics once the sun goes down would be ideal. However, simply wearing orange tinted glasses that block blue wavelengths should be nearly as effective. Don a pair so you can enjoy late night TV shows, emails, or blog posts like this one.
A Dark Room
The darker your bedroom the better. Melatonin is released in response to darkness. If there are night lights, LEDs from electronics, or outside street lamps coming in your window, chances are you aren't getting as deep into sleep as you could be. Remove unnecessary lighting, and consider putting up thick curtains that block all ambient light.
Gentle deep breathing exercises help quiet the mind and body to prepare for sleep. Guided meditations or visualization can be useful to facilitate various breathing exercises. The goal in each is to use the belly to take air deeply into the body, oxygenating the tissues, then exhaling fully to relax the muscles. Simple exercises can include inhaling over a count of 5, then exhaling over a count of 5. With practice you can increase the duration of each inhalation and exhalation. There are over 50 forms of breathing exercises that are part of the Pranayama yoga practice. These can be learned at workshops or from resources online.
Glycine is the smallest amino acid. It acts as a chemical messenger to neurons—leading to inhibition and a generalized sedating effect. Because of its small size, free glycine can cross the blood brain barrier resulting in rapid effect. Studies show that glycine taken before bed promotes restful sleep and is especially helpful in those that wake frequently during the night (3).
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1 Goel N, Kim H, Lao RP. (2005) An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiol Int. 22(5):889-904.
2 Burkhart, K., & Phelps, J. R. (2009). Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Chronobiol Int, 26(8), 1602–1612.
3 Bannai M, Kawai N, Ono K, Nakahara K, Murakami N. (2012) The effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers. Front Neurol. 3:61.