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Many of us struggle with sleep due to cortisol dysregulation, pain, hormonal insomnia, MCAS, histamine intolerance, deficiencies or chemicals in the body, and more. Not getting enough sleep can increase our fatigue, affect mental health, cause sugar cravings, and even make us more sensitive to pain. Getting deep, restorative sleep each night can make a huge difference in how we feel, although it’s not easy to do when your health problems interfere with your sleep, creating a vicious cycle!
General tips to have better sleep:
- use blackout curtains so the room is dark. Unplug or cover any lights from electronic devices.
- go to sleep at the same hour each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on the weekend
- lower the room temperature
- have a wind down routine which helps you switch from go-go-go mode to a quieter relaxation mode. For some people, this may be through stretching, reading, watching sitcoms, listening to calm music, drawing, etc.
- shut off screens a few hours before bed, or if using screens, lower their blue light through an app filter or glasses. I put special lightbulbs in all the rooms too, which are controlled by my phone and switch from white to red light at night, which helps me be less stimulated.
- journal a few hours before bed or having a “worry log” where you take the time to write out worries or anxieties if these keep your mind racing at night and prevent you from sleeping
- avoid alcohol or meals within a few hours of bedtime, as this may interfere with sleep
- make sure your bed is comfortable. For me this is huge! With endometriosis inflammation and full body pain, I can only sleep on squishy foam mattresses. Otherwise the extreme pain from the pressure points wakes me up no matter how exhausted I am. This makes sleeping away from my soft mattress practically impossible. When I travel, I literally bring a giant piece of foam and take Tylenol right before bed to try and avoid this pain.
- associate your bed with sleep only, and don’t use it for other purposes like working, eating, etc
- be careful with napping. Some people find that napping in the daytime prevents them from falling asleep at night.
If you have insomnia and nothing seems to help, all of these tips can seem useless, but these can help with the basis of a good sleep foundation, and then you can build upon them by figuring out what you need further. For some of us, these tips may be enough. For others, we may need to also navigate our pain, hormones, anxiety, etc and see how those disrupt our sleep.
I’ve used to have great sleep, but not anymore!
My sleep used to be incredible, likely due to the way my body was with sleep. For years, I’d get sleepy around the same hour every night and would fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. In the mornings, I used to wake up naturally about 2 minutes before the alarm went off. My sleep was deep and restorative, and around 8-9 hours a night.
But after losing my ovary 4 years ago, and getting MCAS, sleep became impossible. If it wasn’t the hormonal hot flashes, it was the full on insomnia and racing heart from the histamine intolerance I developed. While I was still doing all the same sleep tips and routine that I’d been doing before, I didn’t get sleepy and would lie awake in bed until 4 a.m. There were nights when I didn’t sleep at all. There were others where I’d fall asleep but wake up at 3 a.m. and be unable to fall back asleep.
The journey to better sleep is individual
What ended up helping me get my sleep back was going on oral progesterone, treating my SIBO and gut dysbiosis (which are one of contributing factors to my histamine problems), going on a low histamine diet, and taking supplements like magnesium l-threonate. It took almost 2 years to be able to sleep through the night again. My sleep doesn’t look anything like it did before – I used to struggle to stay awake past 9:30 p.m, but now it’s impossible to sleep before 1 am. I used to wake up naturally around 6 a.m, now I can barely get out of bed by 8:30 a.m. What I eat affects my histamine levels, which then affect my sleep. When my histamine is high, I don’t fall into a deep sleep – if I fall asleep at all.
What’s helping me now is acknowledging and accepting that my sleep is not what it used to be. At the beginning of my sleep troubles, I would look at the clock at 3 a.m when I was wide awake and feel angry and frustrated, and working myself up into that state didn’t help me fall asleep – it just made me feel emotionally miserable. Those are natural reactions because it is a challenging situation, because not sleeping had me exhausted and was affecting my work performance. But eventually, I learned that what was best for me personally on those endless nights of insomnia was putting my body into the deepest state of relaxation that I could. Now I pull put on soothing music, do deep breathing techniques, and meditations. Although it doesn’t put me to sleep, it helps me find a state of calm in my body and have a better experience with my insomnia.
Brittany, who is my podcast co-host, has had insomnia since she was in high school. A year ago, she started therapy with a mental health professional for her Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and has also been using the Curable app to find safety and relaxation in her body. After a few months, she said that she finally feels sleepy at night, and her mind is no longer racing and racing with nonstop worries that send her into a panic and interfere with her sleep. She has been sleeping more hours and had deeper sleep.
What do you need?
For both of us, after putting into place the general tips to have better sleep, what we specifically needed on top of that was very different. Neither one of us are sleeping super soundly every single night, but we are no longer getting our butts kicked by insomnia either, and for now, I’ll take it!
If you are struggling with your sleep, what do you need? A bedtime wind down routine? To take hormone replacement therapy? To make your bed more comfortable? To address a mental health conditions? To learn how to find a state of physical and emotional calm? To buy blackout curtains?
For more info
- Insomnia Until it Hurts. The role of sleep deprivation in chronic pain, especially muscle pain
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
Related Podcast Episodes
- Ep 52 – How Sleep Affects Our Health and Pain Levels
- Tips for Better Sleep (coming soon)