When you’re dealing with chronic disease, it’s essential that you’re doing everything you can to take care of yourself. Maybe you’ve learned to take more breaks during your busy day or eat healthier meals. But if you’re like most people, you’re probably neglecting one extremely important aspect that can help you with your fight: sleep! Here are some reasons why you should make getting lots of high-quality, restful sleep your number one priority.
1. Sleep can give you energy
Getting a solid 8–9 hours of sleep every night can help give you the energy you need to get through the day. Many people with chronic illnesses struggle with insomnia (for a multitude of reasons: symptoms or pain keeping them awake, non-stop worrying, etc.), so they’re running on far fewer hours of sleep every day. This can become a vicious cycle where you’re constantly exhausted. By getting a proper amount of sleep every night, your body can rejuvenate and be totally rested when you wake up the next morning.
2. Sleep can help your body heal
Sleep is one of the best ways that you can get your body to heal. When you fall asleep, your brain triggers the release of hormones to help with tissue growth and the repair of blood vessels. Wounds can actually heal faster, as well as sore or damaged muscles. Your body can even make more white blood cells to attack viruses or bacteria. Having added complications (like a viral infection or a cold) while dealing with a chronic condition can be really tough, so it’s great that sleep can work to keep you healthier. Your immune system is also connected to getting enough sleep. When you’re not getting much shut-eye, your immune system isn’t strong enough to protect your body from infection or other illnesses.
3. Sleep can give your whole system a rest
Getting through every day with a chronic illness can be exhausting and challenging. Sleep can be essential by providing your body with some much-needed time to take a rest. When you’re asleep, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to keep you going. For example, your blood pressure drops and your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. Your body also releases hormones that can slow down your breathing and relax all of your muscles. This process can reduce inflammation and help with the overall healing process.
4. Sleep can help with depression
Many people with chronic disorders suffer from depression as well. When you get a good night’s sleep, your stress levels are lower, and you’ll feel more capable of taking on each day’s challenges. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your brain chemistry can get thrown out of whack. You might find it harder to think clearly and to make decisions, as well as manage or cope with difficult feelings and emotions. This imbalance can result in a lack of motivation or mood swings (which makes it even more challenging to achieve even simple tasks). Poor sleep can also make depression harder to treat because some medications and therapies (like cognitive behavioural therapy) are less effective when you’re having sleep problems.
5. Sleep can help you cope better with your illness
Because sleep can assist you in feeling more rested and having more energy, you’ll feel more capable of handling the other challenges that come along with living with a chronic disease. Improved sleep can mean that you’re able to cope more effectively with flares in your symptoms or difficult doctors’ appointments, tests or procedures. You’ll also be more likely to think clearly when it comes to making decisions about your healthcare.
Want to make sure you’re getting all of these benefits? Here are some suggestions for getting a good night’s sleep:
Preparing to sleep:
- Exercise during the day.
- Eat your meals at the same time every day, and avoid heavy or spicy foods before bedtime.
- Keep your naps limited to 20–30 minutes (and try to take them in the early or middle of the afternoon).
- Try to steer clear of alcohol, caffeine and smoking.
- Use your bed only for sleeping (not watching TV, doing work, etc.).
- Get rid of all electronics in your bedroom – that means TVs and phones (the light can mess with your melatonin levels, which help you fall asleep).
- Try to keep your room quiet – don’t have anything that buzzes or beeps.
- Have heavy curtains or blinds to block out any outside light.
- Keep the room at a comfortable temperature that will encourage sleep.
Before you fall asleep:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same times every day (even on weekends).
- Allow for at least an hour to relax before going to sleep (that can mean something like taking a nice bath, listening to quiet music or reading a book).
- Keep the lights down low.
- Try relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga stretches, mindfulness exercises or deep breathing to get you in a restful mood.
If you want to keep up the good fight against your chronic condition, consider using these tips to help you sleep better. If you’re still struggling with sleep issues after attempting these steps, consult your doctor for recommendations on how to make sure you’re getting adequate, restful sleep every night.