Choreographing Sleep’s Sweet Waltz

I am quickly approaching the 1 month mark until I embark for Europe, and as I work to tie up any lose ends in my planning, I am struggling to master an essential part of managing my health – sleep.

 I continue to toss and turn all night long, losing out on precious sleep. Fibromyalgia significantly affects the sleep cycle. My body has difficulty reaching the deep, restorative stages of sleep, Stages 4 and 5. These are the stages of sleep that manage my immune system, my levels of neurotransmitters, such as crucial serotonin, and allow my body to restore all its systems.

The result: in the morning, I am exhausted, physically and mentally. My muscles grow painful and sluggish, my brain fogs up, my short-term memory is nonexistent, and all of my other symptoms become acute. The longer I go without a good night’s sleep, the more likely I am to slip into a flare.  If I am going to remain relatively healthy during my trip for 6 weeks, I need to figure out how to stay asleep for longer periods, without constantly waking up in the wee hours of the morning.

The first key is to actually fall asleep. This is much harder than you might think. Fibro heightens all of my senses beyond mere annoyance – I can be stressed by the slightest repetitive sound to the point I have to leave the room, even when it’s just the tapping of a pen, the chewing of gum, or the crinkle of newspaper pages. When I fly on an airplane, I listen to my mP3 player to avoid stressing out over all the sounds of tightly packed humanity. My husband Mark has learned to laugh at this quirk of mine, but sometimes it truly is so frustrating I want to cry. Neighbors talking outside, the song of crickets, a softly closing door, even Mark typing on the computer in the other room – all will keep me wide awake.

I have mostly shunned the obvious solution – earplugs – since my sense of touch is also heightened, and the feel of plugged up ears has always been uncomfortable for me. I also experience strange phantom “crawling” sensations on my arms and legs, itching without any signs of bug bites or rash, and a claustrophobic sensation just from a tight belt.

The other overactive sense that affects my sleep daily is sight. A streetlight or full moon filtering in through the bedroom window make it difficult to fall asleep.  Mark turning on the hall light will instantly jerk me out of sleep.

So after a night of tossing and turning, I tend to be very frustrated and physically drained. I have tried sleep aides prescribed by the doctors, and while they help me stay asleep, they don’t actually help me fall asleep. I hate the idea of having to medicate sleep anyway, no matter how sleep deprived I am.

However, I am determined to get some control of my sleep cycle, and I have made small strides that will hopefully help by the time I set foot on the plane to Venice.

– I am using a soft bamboo fabric eye mask to shut out light while I sleep, and while it took about a week to get used to the feel of elastic around my head, it finally seems to be working. I have not woken up due to any light disturbance for nearly a week. A small, but definitely not insignificant victory!

– I am buying myself earplugs today. Maybe if I allow myself time to get used to them, like I did with the eye mask, I will be able to wear earplugs and shut out all the sounds that keep me tossing all night. This will be essential when I’m traveling on night trains and sleeping in hostels.

These are just two small strategies in my never-ending battle to sleep. I welcome any other ideas and suggestions.


About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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