Some of the questions I get asked frequently is if my autoimmune disease affects my sleep, if I struggle with insomnia, and how I improved my sleep.
My answers are: yes, my autoimmune disease affects my sleep; yes, I struggled with insomnia; I am happy to share how I improved my sleep.
Ironically, most of the things that help me sleep through the night I do before even going to bed.
While I share what helped me sleep better, please keep in mind, I am simply sharing what worked for my body.
Each of us are beautifully unique, and what works best for my body may look different than what works best for your body.
Also, there are many recommended ways to improve sleep that either I did not try or that did not work best for me.
I included a list of online resources at the bottom of this post, so you can review more ideas of ways to improve sleep.
I experienced insomnia for a number of months.
While I had no trouble falling asleep, I would awake each night between 3 and 4 in the morning, and be unable to fall back asleep for hours.
No matter how tired I felt, or how badly I tried to fall back asleep, I still found myself unable to fall back asleep.
It was terrible.
Side note: I later learned that habitually waking up between 3 and 4 in the morning is one of the signs of adrenal fatigue.
Insomnia to Anxiety
After months of waking up every night, and being awake for hours, I not only felt fatigue, I also developed anxiety.
Every day, as the afternoon wore on, and evening approached, I felt overwhelmed by anxious thoughts and feelings.
What if I woke up AGAIN tonight?
What if I cannot fall back asleep?
Should I take a sleeping pill?
Who can I fix this?
I dreaded going to bed.
How I Improved my Sleep
I innately felt I should stay away from sleeping pills because of my health issues.
As a result, I tried a number of other things to improve my sleep.
In an effort to improve the quality of my sleep, my husband and I try to keep our family’s evenings as calm and relaxing as possible.
We try to avoid scheduling busy evenings.
We avoid running errands at night, and instead try to run errands before dinner, or on Saturdays.
We have dinner as a family most evenings, then start to wind down after our clean up. We involve our kids in preparing dinner and clean up as much as possible.
I noticed I sleep better when our evenings are calm, most likely because I feel calmer.
Electronics Free Evenings
My husband and I had a years old habit of watching TV or movies at night in bed until we fell asleep.
I learned about the importance of limiting blue light from TV, phones, and other electronics in the evenings since blue light exposure can disrupt circadian rhythms, and interfere with sleep.
I noticed a big improvement in my sleep quality when I stopped watching TV and looking at my phone 2-3 hours before bedtime.
I am not saying it is easy to not watch TV at night, or work on my computer. It is hard not to, but really is worth better sleep. Another option if you cannot seem to give up electronics before bed is to use blue light blocking glasses.
Making Sleep a Priority
Setting a general bedtime, and winding down in the hour or two leading up to bedtime helped me relax and get my body and mind prepared to sleep.
Like most people, my to-do list is seemingly endless and I feel like there is always something I need to be doing.
It took a leap of faith to say, “to heck with my to-do list” in the evenings, and focus on healing.
There was no way around it, sleep was vital to my healing process.
Sleep continues to be instrumental to my wellness. Just one night of poor sleep can throw off how I feel physically and mentally.
Ironically, I discovered by cutting back in the evenings, I slept better, and in turn, feel better. As a result, I accomplish more during the day.
Meditation and Bedtime Yoga
I usually prefer to meditate and do gentle yoga for a few minutes in the morning to set my day up for success, however when I experienced anxiety before bed, I also practiced meditation and gentle bedtime yoga at night.
Nothing fancy. Just a few minutes of deep breathing, and an online free 7-minute Bedtime Yoga by Yoga with Adriene. I turned on the yoga video after getting in bed, then closed my eyes and followed along through listening.
I also tried to meditate in the middle of the night when I found myself unable to fall back asleep. Sometimes it helped, but most of the time, it did not.
I use high quality, therapeutic grade essential oils in a number of ways when my insomnia was at its worst.
First, I diffused lavender oil in the hour or so leading up to bedtime.
Next, I applied lavender and occasionally vetiver to the bottoms of my feet. I also put a few drops of lavender on my pillow.
While my husband has no issues with sleep environment, I am very sensitive to light, temperature, and noise when I sleep.
I sleep best in a cool, pitch black room, with a noise machine on.
My husband chuckles when I put on my favorite eye mask even though we have blackout curtains.
I notice I sleep better when I eat three balanced meals a day, with no bedtime snacks.
Balanced meals, for me, include a protein, carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fruit, and healthy fats.
I also aim to eat dinner at least 3-4 hours before I go to bed. I notice that when I eat closer to when I fall asleep, I do not sleep as well.
Limiting Caffeine and Sugar
I feel it is also important to note during my period of insomnia, I was on the autoimmune protocol.
Meaning, I consumed no caffeine or sugar during this period of time even though I struggled with sleep. I still do not drink any caffeine or eat sugar.
If you are struggling with insomnia, and are consuming caffeine and sugar, I would start by cutting down on, or eliminating both. However, be mindful of stress levels as you cut down or eliminate caffeine or sugar.
I used caffeine and sugar as a coping mechanism, so giving up both was stressful for me until I found healthier ways to manage stress.
Giving It Time
I tried to be as patient with myself as possible as I worked through improving my sleep.
My sleep did not improve immediately, but gradually I was able to sleep through the night.
It took time, and a lot of trial and error to find my recipe to sleep success.
After a period of sleeping well, I no longer needed bedtime yoga, diffused oils, or mediation at night. With that said, my sleep is still occasionally off, and I fall back on my go-tos when needed.
I found as I healed, my sleep improved, and as my sleep improved, I healed.
I very rarely have insomnia anymore.
Most nights, I fall asleep easily and wake up in the morning feeling refreshed.
Improving my sleep was not easy, but it was worth every effort.
I am sending you best wishes for sweet dreams as you find ways to improve your sleep.
If you have any sleep tricks, I would love to hear!
If you are struggling with insomnia and looking for more information on ways to improve sleep, here are some resources: