Have you ever heard anyone speak about good sleep hygiene?
Neither had I. Until I started learning about the importance of a sleep routine to help with my chronic migraine. Sleep hygiene simply means managing areas of your life during the day that can affect your sleep in the evening.
Firstly, I started to understand the importance of sleep and how it can dictate the following day if I hadn't had enough. When I first met my specialist, I explained that I have two small children very close in age and particularly one child that had never liked sleeping. I was lucky to get four hours of broken sleep a night and then during the day baby would nap for only 25 minutes a couple of times. This was something that I had spoken to our GP about numerous times, but nothing was really suggested to help change the situation.
I kept thinking at 6 months surely the sleep will improve, no, at 18 months no, 2 years No, No, No! It wasn't until a couple of months before their 4th birthday that I got some sleep. This is what also made me start pursuing my doctors for some answers as to why I felt so terrible. For years I was told you’re just tired but when I started getting a full night’s sleep and still feeling absolutely dreadful, I knew something was very wrong. In less than a month from getting full nights of sleep I was taking numerous trips to the doctor because my symptoms kept getting worse by the day. It was only weeks later when chronic migraine took me down and I am still trying to get up some 20 months later.
On my file is says chronic migraine induced by years of insomnia. For all those years I had gone without sleep, I now truly understand how important it is to get a good night's sleep. If I don't the next day is so difficult, and I am potentially written off and useless.
So I developed a regular sleep pattern and good sleep hygiene through these measures. I started going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, I seem to need a lot of sleep, 8 plus hours. When it was determined I had chronic vestibular migraine, chronic migraine with aura, abdominal migraine and visual vertigo I spent many months in our darkened bedroom I found that the perfect pillow was a necessity. When you have neck, head, scalp and head pain everything hurts and finding the best pillow is vital. We also had our lights
replaced throughout our home and installed dimmers to be able to control the lighting.
Our bedroom is very tranquil, an environment that feels restful, quiet, dark but with warm lighting when needed. I have an appreciation for beautiful linen and love our pillow top mattress oh the comfort it brings me. When I have a migraine attack, I snuggle up with a heat pack on my shoulders, one wrapped around my tummy and an ice pack on my head and I am set to see the migraine through.
It’s said you should make the association between bed and sleep very strong. So that you are only in your bed for sleep, sexy time and in my case a migraine. So, no reading in bed, watching TV, resting and the like. If it takes more than 20 minutes to fall asleep, I suggest getting out of bed and doing a non-stimulating activity until you feel sleepy again.
I don't have any screen time before bed but instead I read if I can or write/ keep a journal. Find something that relaxes you and that is not exhilarating, that won’t activate your mind when it is time to sleep. Some good habits to think about during the day is avoiding caffeine, coffee, tea, coke and chocolate especially before bed as it may reduce your quality of sleep.
I try to exercise daily, at this stage this entails a gentle walk and I do this outside to be within nature and during the day when it is not at its brightest in the warmer months.
There is a certain stage of migraine usually before an attack where you feel excessively sleepy and may yawn a lot. Lucky for me sleep is very helpful during a migraine attack and can often stop the pain or lessen the outcome.
It is so important to address sleep as part of your pain management plan. Sleep problems and chronic pain seem to go hand in hand. Quite often people with chronic pain find it difficult to fall asleep. Even if you get a good amount of sleep, you can still feel very tired in the morning as the quality of sleep is often poor. Having a bad night’s sleep can make you more pain sensitive. Long term, quality sleep may improve chronic pain, this idea keeps me ridged with my sleep routine.
“People in pain don’t sleep, and people who sleep have less pain,” What a conundrum.
Tips to manage pain at night to help sleep. There are several things you can do to increase your chance of good quality sleep.
- Use relaxation strategies to reduce tension in the body that may increase pain, learn mindfulness skills and practice mindfulness meditation, guided imagery
- Practice distraction techniques that are also relaxing like listening to music or a podcast
- Use heat packs if you believe they will alleviate pain and bring relief
- Improve your comfort in bed with pillows and blankets
During the night anxiety can set in, so take measures to ease this perhaps a weighted blanket and some soothing music or breath awareness.
When my pain was constant day and night for months and months on end I found concentrating on my breathing helped me get through the next second. I would think breath in.... breath out over and over. I would use calming music to help relax me and block out the amount of noise of blaring tinnitus. I have meditated for years but never for pain, this one day it was so bad, and I was in my head thinking it is almost impossible to bare any longer. I found a
meditation that I practiced for the coming days and weeks, feel the pain for a few moments then don't feel the pain. At first, I found this impossible as I was in so much pain but I began to get glimpses, short moments in-between the pain of feeling it but it not bothering me as much. It is worth giving it a go.
I certainly don't take sleep for granted like I used to, I have an appreciation for good sleep hygiene, and I now know the importance it has on our health.
“Prioritizing good sleep is good self-care.”