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27 Tips for the Nights When Your Chronic Illness Makes It Hard to Sleep

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When you live with chronic pain or illness, sleeping can become an issue. Getting eight hours of restful sleep each night isn’t always possible if you’re tossing and turning with “painsomnia,” muscle tension or other uncomfortable symptoms. And for many, nighttime is when depression and anxiety can creep in and cause your mind to race – making it even harder to sleep.

It can be incredibly frustrating to lie awake at night, unable to sleep, especially if you’ve spent the whole day battling fatigue and exhaustion. But sleep deprivation can also have serious effects on your health and your mood, and for those with chronic conditions, it can often exacerbate the symptoms you are already trying to manage. So, we asked our Mighty community to share their tips for coping with sleeping challenges. Maybe some of these ideas will help you work towards getting a better night’s sleep. Let us know your own coping strategies in the comments below.

Here’s what the community told us:

1. “I try to make my painsomnia work for me; I’ll either use the time I can’t sleep to paint or write articles and blog posts. I find if I am using that time to be productive with things I find soothing and cathartic, then I don’t get stressed and worried that I can’t fall asleep.”

2. “I keep my sleep habits and patterns consistent. No matter how poorly I sleep one night/week, I go to bed and wake at roughly the same time. It’s important to keep your circadian rhythm healthy.”

3. “My dog probably helps more than anything. My life has gotten a million times better since I adopted her. She’s great at sensing when it’s an extra hard night and comforting me.”

4. “I turn on a Bob Ross video on YouTube. I don’t watch – screen light is supposed to make it harder to sleep and sometimes the bright light hurts – but I’ll just close my eyes and listen.”

5. “Sleep naked or close to it. Seriously. It allows your body to better regulate its temperature.”

6. “I use essential oils, topically and diffusing. I massage relaxation essential oils into my feet, back of neck and along the hairline on my face. Then I massage a different blend of oils to help with pain and inflammation into my lower back, hips and shoulders. Lastly, I massage one final blend into my thighs to help alleviate the fibro lactic acid burn.”

7. “Having electric blankets on for 10-15 minutes before you sleep is like an all-over heat pack for your body aches. It helps me sleep.”

8. “I have found the best distraction for the pain is connecting with someone who has the same condition. Plus that person knows exactly how it feels. Often we are up in the middle of the night at the same time messaging one another.”

9. “When all else fails, talk with your doctor about your painsomnia. I tried every relaxing mechanism in the book, and still would wake up at least every hour from pain. I talked to my POTS specialist about it. She really wanted to put me on medication to help me sleep. I was hesitant since I already take 10+ pills each day for all of my conditions. She explained if I was able to get a solid block of sleep in, my fatigue wouldn’t be as bad during the day. I agreed to try it, and I swear it’s changed my life. I take 100 mg of [medication] before bed and sleep like a baby. I wake up after eight hours feeling pretty decent.”

10. “Music, music, music! If I’m stuck in the dark and silent atmosphere of nighttime all alone when everyone else is asleep, it gives my mind too much time to think and dwell on the pain and loss from my chronic illness. Music distracts me from my own thoughts so I can cope better.”

11. “Sometimes you just don’t cope. Your meds don’t work and neither does adjusting your bed, your pillows, your blankets or any one of a million things that might occasionally work. So sometimes you don’t cope. You can’t sleep, and sometimes you just lay there in pain. And you know what? That is OK.”

12. “I keep my room nice and cold, and I have also included a meditation app into my bedtime routine. There are various categories to choose from, but usually I’ll pick one that helps me slow my breathing down into a good pattern for sleep, and then I’ll listen to one specifically for falling asleep. This allows me to focus on my breathing instead of the pain I might be experiencing at the time, or what my mind might be racing around in circles about.”

13. “Honestly I found the only time I get really restful sleep – in pain or not – is with medicinal marijuana. I never even knew I could have restful sleep before pot.”

14. “Get out of bed and make yourself as comfortable as possible wherever else it’s easiest to. Better to get sleepy on the couch than to associate your bed with painsomnia and/or frustration. If your pain is related to muscle tension, consider a magnesium supplement. Magnesium helps with muscle tension, relaxing and resting and digestion.”

15. “Audiobooks. I have a subscription to Audible and access to five library systems. They can usually get my mind off the worst symptoms enough to fall asleep, although depending on the book, they may wake me up too!”

16. “I invested in a good memory foam mattress topper. It reduced the amount of tossing and turning, trying to find a position that’s comfortable.”

17. “Yogi Tea, a warm bath afterwards and warm compresses for pain. I also watch Peaceful Cuisine on YouTube. The sounds and visuals are so relaxing – they help me ease into sleep when I can’t.”

18. “I always go for a little walk in the cool night air maybe a half hour before going to bed. It helps my mind and body relax so much and helps calm my racing thoughts. Late at night it’s always so quiet, which I find a blessing.”

19. “Gentle yoga stretches in bed help settle my mind. I sleep with lots of pillows. Behind my back, between my knees, at my chest. Everywhere I can prop, and a slightly weighted blanket. My husband calls it my nest.”

20. “Not to help me sleep per se, but every morning when I wake up I write down in my diary how I slept the previous night. How many times did I wake up? For how long? Where did I feel pain? Did I get out of bed? Did I need to take extra painkillers during the night? Etc. It allows me to see if patterns emerge… Writing it all down also allows me to gauge how much pain or fatigue I feel during the day after a restless sleep. Just allows me to manage my condition a bit better.”

21. “As simple as it sounds – sitting in a hot shower. I sit there for quite some time which isn’t great for the water bill, but is great for me. My bedroom is also kept cold so going to one after the other has the best effect for me.”

22. “I have a J-shaped pregnancy pillow to help support my body when I am having an endometriosis or lupus flare. Best purchase I’ve made!”

23. “Meds. That’s the only way I’ve been able to get any sleep since I have pain-induced insomnia. Nothing else works for me.”

24. “Visual meditation, focusing on calming and restful images instead of focusing on anxiety, stress and pain.”

25. “Try to keep from getting angry. When I’m looking at the time calculating up how many hours I have before I have to start the day it can get super frustrating, but the more upset I am the farther I get from sleeping.”

26. “Soothing music playlist or guided meditation on YouTube, melatonin, comfortable bedding, nest of pillows, minimal clothing, fan and blackout curtains are all my best friends. On really bad nights, I break out the muscle relaxers.”

27. “I tell myself that when I’m in bed, it’s my time to rest – not necessarily sleep, but to rest. Sleep is a type of rest. It’s OK if I don’t sleep because that’s not my goal. My goal is to rest. Using language like this takes the pressure off.”

How do you cope with sleeping challenges due to pain or other symptoms? Share in the comments below!

Originally published: May 31, 2017
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