One of the worst things about lupus is that you feel absolutely exhausted, but you can’t sleep. The combination of both can be very serious as lack of sleep causes all kinds of problems from lack of concentration to possible heart attacks and strokes. Sleep deprivation is deadlier than food deprivation, in fact, it’s so dangerous, it will kill you quicker – it takes around two weeks to starve to death but just ten days without sleep can kill you.
A number of years ago I was hardly sleeping at all, 4 hours (or less) was beginning to be ‘normal’ and I was really beginning to feel the effects. I saw Professor D’Cruz at the Louise Coote Lupus Unit and (as is usual for me) I asked if there was anything I could try that didn’t involve me taking drugs. He said that they had just completed a clinical trial on diet and the group of patients that were following the low G.I. diet had reported the ‘side effect’ of sleeping well. As it happened I thought I could do to lose some weight and if I had the added benefit of sleep that had to be good.
Long story short, I started on the diet and within a week I was sleeping much better and my mood elevated (possibly due to the diet, but also the fact I was sleeping). What we eat is scientifically proven to help with all sorts of issues including sleep, so if you're struggling to sleep looking at your current diet is a good starting point. Oh and I did lose weight too – win, win!
There are various foods and drink that are said to aid sleep if taken just before bedtime: Cherry juice/cherries, turkey, kiwi, salmon and pistachio (known as the nut with the most melatonin) to name but a few. You shouldn’t go to bed hungry, so have a small light snack ideally from foods that aid sleep, I’m a big fan of turkey slices in the fridge just to nibble on.
Other foods are said to worsen sleep: coffee (pretty obvious because of the caffeine, try not to have caffeine after 3pm), chilli peppers, crisps or other salty foods as they’re a diuretic and will cause you to have to make more bathroom visits, steak - or really any heavy meal that will need a lot of digestion and of course alcohol, you may think it helps you sleep but although it may initially help you nod off it actually disrupts sleep. Different people find different foods cause problems, so sometimes it is a matter of elimination.
So what else can you do to help you sleep? If you search the internet there’s a plethora of tips but here’s a few of the best:
Establishing a routine seems to help a lot of people. Regular bedtime, even on weekends, maybe a nice warm, relaxing bath and listening to soothing music before going to bed often help.
Technology before bed time is an absolute no,no. You should stop using anything with a blue light such as mobile phones, computers etc at least 30 minutes before bedtime and they should also not be in your bedroom as there’s temptation to look at them whilst you’re in bed.
Make your bedroom a comforting, welcoming sanctuary (and ideally tidy, as mess causes stress and is distracting), snuggly warm blankets, maybe a lavender pillow spray (which I personally love). Whilst reading a nice relaxing book that makes you feel positive is a good thing, as stated above gadgets should be left our of your bedroom, it should be seen as the place you go to sleep not where you surf the internet or watch tv. A cool bedroom 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature, over 71 degrees cause restlessness, so cool is better.
I have trained myself to do the next thing over the years and it’s finally working: Don't look at the time if you wake up, if you get up to go to bathroom go right back to bed and close your eyes. Even if you are lying with eyes closed you're resting.
There are a couple of things that can help you relax, if you’re anxious that can disrupt sleep:
Focus on your feet think grateful thoughts for toes, ankles, calves etc until you reach your head if you wake up start again – a small form of meditation.
Try 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breathe for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds. This is excellent for reducing panic and anxiety (at any time of day). It gives you an opportunity to collect your thoughts and it’s ideal for falling asleep too.
You might have tried some of these things but they’re always worth trying again as often you need to do them several times before they work. I used to have little sleep but with persistence I am much better now, it often takes quite a while to get a routine that works for you so don't give up.
It could be worse you could be a giraffe or koala: Koalas are the sleepiest mammal, sleeping for a whopping 22 hours a day and giraffes are the mammal needing the least sleep, getting just 1.9 hours a day in five to ten minute session!