Poor Sleep Quality: Rebooting My Sleep Routine
As I’m sure you know, multiple sclerosis (MS) can greatly affect your ability to sleep. While MS and fatigue are essentially synonymous, insomnia is still rather common for those living with this illness. Rarely is irony as painful as it is during that period of time when you’re dead-tired but simultaneously wide-awake at 3:00 am. At least that’s what I often think during that brief eternity spent staring at the ceiling and continuously glancing over at the glowing blue numbers of my alarm clock. For years, I would turn to prescription sleeping aids because it was a simple solution that I never really had to think too much about. Well, not until they stopped working for me, that is. It was at that point that I really started to read up on how sleep actually works in the brain, and as I learned more and more, I was eventually able to overcome my insomnia without the use of medication. This lasted for quite a while, but unfortunately, I have slowly slipped out of the nightly routine I had developed that had helped me maintain a relatively healthy amount of sleep.
I seemed to crash around midday
The thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve been sleeping less lately. I actually feel like I’ve been falling asleep pretty quick and that I’ve been getting up less (if at all) to use the restroom. In fact, I’ve often been waking up before my alarm goes off and actually getting myself out of bed hasn’t been too difficult. However, around midday, I seem to just crash, and my brain just stops working, even after several cups of coffee and a full dose of Ritalin! What the heck was going on? Why was I so tired? I got enough sleep, and I definitely wasn’t doing anything to “drain my batteries” so drastically!
I hadn't been sleeping as well as I thought
Well, I have a fitness tracker watch that tells me how I sleep each night based on my heart rate and how much I move around. While I’m sure it’s not nearly as accurate as an EEG (what they monitor your brain with during a sleep study), it’s still at least some kind of measurable data on how I slept. According to my watch, I actually haven’t been sleeping as well as I thought I’ve been lately! For example, despite having been in bed for nearly 10 hours the previous night, it was only showing that I got about 5-6 hours of sleep! I’m thinking this is a good representation of how the amount of sleep I get doesn’t really matter that much if the quality of the sleep I get is poor.
My sleep quality hasn't been great
Now I sort of wish I had a camera with night vision so I could literally look back on how I slept the previous night. Is my watch saying I got so little sleep because I’m tossing and turning? Am I sleepwalking? Acting out my dreams? I have no idea, but the fact that I’ve been completely running out of energy just halfway through the day definitely seems to correlate with what my watch is telling me, as well as the idea that my sleep quality just hasn’t been so great. Because I’ve definitely slipped out of many of the nightly bedtime habits I had once adopted to successfully help me avoid spending my nights in the grip of insomnia, I would say it’s definitely time to reset my sleep routine.
My sleep routine
First, let me refresh you on a couple of the main aspects of my previous sleep routine that I feel were the most important factors to my success; maybe they can help you, too. One of the things that I read about all over the internet was to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends! Next was the kind of lights I was exposed to: they say that about 1 hour before you plan on going to sleep, you should avoid any electronic devices with a screen (such as TVs, computers, and smartphones) because the light they emit is very similar to the blue waves of light that the sun emits. These blue light waves tell your brain that it’s still daytime, and because of that, the brain’s natural production of melatonin is inhibited. Since melatonin is basically the hormone your brain produces when it thinks that it’s time to start getting sleepy (usually around 9:00PM), well, as I’m sure you can guess, you stay awake regardless of how tired your body feels. So, before my chosen bedtime, I would light a candle, turn off all my screens, and listen to some relaxing piano music.
Buying lights to mimic the sun
There were lots of other little things I did before bed, but the two that I just mentioned above were what I would consider the main cornerstones of my routine. Since the time of me first starting to practice these habits, I have bought a bunch of those LED light bulbs that connect to my phone via WiFi so that I can set a schedule for when they turn on and off, when they are bright and when they are dim, and even what color they all are! I currently have them set to mimic the sun, meaning when they first turn on in the morning, they have more of a blue tint that gradually transitions to a bright white. Around noon, they slowly start to fade to a slightly warmer color before finally ending my day with a combination of yellows, oranges, and reds (to mimic a sunset) before finally fading off.
Getting back on track
One of my current problems (that is undoubtedly disrupting my sleep) is that I have once again been working on the computer late and ending my night with a little TV… lots of blue light. On top of that, I haven’t been going to sleep at the same time every night… sometimes I’ll turn in earlier (because I feel tired), and sometimes I’m up just a little later working on the computer. So, no more consistency. Looking back, it definitely seems that those two simple habits were way more critical to how well I sleep than I had first realized, so I really need to get back on track! This stuff may be incredibly simple, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. It takes time and discipline to create and stick to a nightly routine, but trust me, it’s definitely worth the effort! Alright then, time to reboot my sleep routine so I can once more catch them high-quality Z’s!
Recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation
A lot of the information I mentioned in this post regarding how sleep works, as well as recommendations for developing healthy sleep habits, can be found on the National Sleep Foundation’s website. I definitely recommend you check that out so that maybe you too can learn about all the different ways that can help you start to sleep better.
Do you already have a sleep routine down? What works for you? How do you overcome insomnia? How much sleep do you try to get each night? How would you rate the quality of your sleep? Share in the comments below!
Does listening to music help lower the severity of your stress or MS symptoms?