This is the third morning in a row I have woken up after a full night of sleep and am still exhausted. If there is one element of fibromyalgia that bothers me most, this lack of restorative sleep is it. I can plan to go to sleep early or on time, sleep a full eight or nine hours, and still wake up in a fog, feeling like I am still sleep-deprived. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
While many doctors may explain this lack of restorative sleep differently, here is how I understand it. In people with fibromyalgia, they often have chronically low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is critical to regulating the sleep cycle. With low levels of serotonin, it is harder for the body to go into Stages 4 and 5 of the cycle. These are the very stages responsible for healing the body and regulating the immune system. In a typical night, I wake up often and rarely reach the deep sleep of Stage 4.
Given my reality, how do I then manage to go about a productive day when I am chronically exhausted and sleep-deprived? And what about when I’m on the road travelling the world? It’s not easy, but I do manage, sometimes more successfully and other times less so. Some of my strategies:
– I allow myself a lot of time in the morning to get moving and push away some of the morning fog. If I need to leave the house by 9am, I’m setting my alarm for 6am and taking the morning slow and deliberately.
– I eat as healthy as possible. When I am low on energy, I need the energy boost from whole-grains, lean protein, and vegetables. For breakfast I am especially fond of oatmeal with flax seeds; my own homemade muesli of rolled oats, almonds, flax seeds, dried cranberries and a little milk; rye bread with cream cheese and smoked salmon; and any egg dishes.
– I always avoid super sugary drinks that give me a brief sugar rush, then crash my energy levels for the rest of the day. Soda (or pop as I would call it back home) is as especially bad culprit.
– I exercise, no matter how stiff and tired I am. Often I feel so lethargic, I have difficulty motivating myself to move. I have to self-talk myself through the first few minutes of exercise and then I begin to feel a little better. My favorite form of exercise on these days is walking – low-impact on pain but huge on results.
– A few times a week I take an afternoon siesta to recharge – short nap and cuddle up with a book or movie.
– I write everything down. When I’m feeling unusually tired and foggy, I am likely to forget things.
– When traveling, I follow these same guidelines, adjusting as necessary. I picnic or cook for myself in a hostel kitchen. I almost always prepare my own breakfast. I walk everywhere. I give myself permission to take a break from sightseeing and nap.
This is what works for me. I may not be able to always control my sleep cycle, but I can control how I respond to the situation.