For some, sleep connotes images of rest, peace and waking up feeling refreshed. For others, the word alone conjures up varying emotions of frustration and despair. The variety and large number of books and TV programmes about sleep – why it is so important, investigations on people who struggle to sleep well and tips and tricks on how to improve your sleep – demonstrate that the majority of people struggle to sleep and sleep well.
The books and programmes share the same viewpoint, that it is our busy lives, with an increase in screen time, stress and for some a lack of any routine due to work rotas. It is no wonder then that we struggle to sleep yet strive to sleep because it is vital to our survival. Sleep allows the human body to compartmentalise and store information from that day, restore and replenish the different bodily systems and recharge. Ultimately, it sets us up for the next day. Without sleep, as everyone has experienced when they have not had enough sleep, you cannot make logical decisions, reactions slow and we are more susceptible to illness and infections. Basically, our body lacks the ability to properly fulfil its normal functions that we rely on to remain healthy.
My struggle with sleep has been lifelong
I’ve always struggled with sleep one way or another. When I was younger I’d struggle to sleep from over-thinking and then wake up and not be able to fall asleep once more. This continued into adulthood but transitioned into the latter struggle. I would often wake early and not fall asleep, or eventually manage to fall asleep once dawn approached. Alternatively, I would wake early but too late to try to fall asleep so I would spend hours reading waiting for the day to arrive. I would rather get up and do something than stay in bed frustrated that my body (or mind) would not allow me to return to sleep. The Dr said I had a form of insomnia but didn’t really give me any advice on how to improve my sleep. Helpful.
However, at least when I did get some decent sleep, averaging 6-7 hours a night, I would wake feeling refreshed. Or if still a little tired, nothing a shower couldn’t sort out along with breakfast. I never understood how people could sleep 9 hours a night. Crazy!
How about now?
Well, for all those struggling with CFS/ME or similar, I’m sure you all look back on those days and think ‘if only’.
I actually seem to be sleeping better than I ever have (as far as I can remember!). When I was first ill I struggled to sleep through the night, often waking many times, waking early or sleeping later. I was spending the day lying on the sofa and only getting up to eat and other such necessary activities! This in itself was enough to keep my fatigue levels high and energy levels low.
Now I’m back at work I have found that I sleep more. A lot more. According to my Fitbit, last week I averaged 8 hours 26 minutes sleep. Wow. But that doesn’t help me. I start my bedtime routine around 8pm, turn the light out before 9pm and wake around 5.30am. I do still wake in the night and sometimes I struggle to fall asleep. I find this is more likely to happen at the weekend as work is a ‘high’ energy activity for me, thus fatigues me more.
More sleep = continued fatigue
Yes, I find that the more I sleep the higher energy levels I have over the day. Yet I still wake feeling as though I had 2 hours sleep and that feeling does not leave me at any time throughout the day, whatever I do and however much I try to rest. That feeling of fatigue is a consistent reminder of this illness. When it increases, I tell myself to stop what I am doing and rest – impossible in the middle of a lesson so I have to adapt this sometimes – as it is a sign that I am beginning to over-do it.
I am calling it fatigue because tiredness can be overcome with rest, whereas fatigue cannot. It is unrelenting.
So why do I love sleep then?
Sleep gives me respite from the constant fatigue, aches and pains that I have to live with every minute of every day. When I wake, my first thought is often ‘I slept well’. For me nowadays, sleeping well means falling asleep quickly, not waking much, if at all during the night, falling asleep again immediately and then not waking too early in the morning. Then the fatigue hits and the reality of what that entails. I lie there for an hour, maybe longer until 6.30am when I roll myself out of bed. I would drop out but that would create too much noise!! And hurt!
I’ve read that you should go to bed at the same time, but just as importantly, get up at the same time each day. I know that I should probably get up when I wake but I just don’t have the energy. I need to conserve it for as long as I can. My Fitbit even thinks I am still asleep!! So I have to edit that… I get up at 6.30am because I need more time in the morning to meditate and stretch before completing all the other normal tasks before I leave the house. Even when I do not need to be in work until later, I still try to get up at this time. Meditation and stretching help decrease my fatigue levels momentarily, increase my positive mindset and slightly reduce the stiffness and aches.
Routine is important to me, it always has, and now more than ever. I believe it is helping me sleep better and perhaps it is making a difference. As soon as I was given the diagnosis, a sleep routine was one of the first things I started. I’m glad I did because without the sleep I do successfully get the majority of the time, I would feel a lot more fatigued than I do most days. Yes, I have bad days still but other factors determine these days.
I sleep because I need it more than ever. It may not feel like I have slept when I wake but it certainly makes a huge difference to how I do feel. I’ve accepted that it may be a long time before I ever feel refreshed again but at least I can try to minimise the fatigue levels by staying dedicated to a consistent bedtime and sleep routine.