Restful Sleep and Improving Autoimmune Symptoms
Fatigue and non-restful sleep are a common and often debilitating components of autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome. In fact, sleeping problems are considered reliable warning signs for a variety of autoimmune conditions. Some researchers believe that long-term disruption of normal sleep cycles (for many weeks or months) may actually trigger autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome because of how sleep deprivation impairs immunity and affects the musculoskeletal system. While getting consistently good, restful sleeps may not completely alleviate your symptoms, there’s a very good chance it will at least improve your overall well-being.
Are sleeping problems and daytime fatigue a cause of my autoimmune condition or a result of it?
For conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that a disrupted sleep cycle (from emotional / physical trauma or dietary habits) is a significant factor, if not a direct trigger for the onset of disease. On the other hand, the inflammation and pain from other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis often have a significant impact on sleep due to discomfort. Chronically fatigued individuals should be assessed for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
If restful sleep is truly a factor in reducing my autoimmune symptoms, how do I know when I am getting restful sleep?
The brain produces a variety of electromagnetic currents that are correlated to its degree of consciousness. When you are sleeping at night, your brain should produce delta waves for at least a few hours, which represent the most restful kind of sleep. During deep delta wave sleep, your muscles are completely relaxed and still, and your immune system gets a boost. Unless you go to a sleep clinic, you won’t know for sure if you are sleeping deep enough to produce delta waves, although waking up fully rested and feeling refreshed is usually a very good indication. In contrast, waking up fatigued and irritable is a sign of poor sleep often caused by insomnia or sleep apnea.
If I get restful sleep for only part of the night or a few days a week, how does that impact my immune system?
Your body and immune system actually need between eight and nine hours of sleep every night, although less than half that time is spent in deep delta wave sleep. Most people then, by that definition, are sleep deprived. Unfortunately, making up for lost sleep is not really feasible, so the best you can hope for is to make the necessary changes in your life in order to get as much restful sleep as possible. Establishing a healthy sleep cycle can make a dramatic impact on physical symptoms as well as emotional symptoms, because it balances hormones and chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters.
What are some suggestions for re-establishing a healthy sleep cycle?
Research strongly supports developing a strict sleep routine to get back on track. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time everyday (regardless of how you sleep) and avoid daytime napping unless/until you are sleeping well at night. Avoid watching television or using the computer in bed (this stimulates the brain). Avoid anything with caffeine (coffee, black tea, soda pop, energy drinks, chocolate) or alcohol at least six hours prior to bedtime. Use ear plugs if your partner snores. Consider supplementing with melatonin (a natural hormone essential for sleep), magnesium and/or herbal remedies such as valerian root or chamomile, which are available as tea. Meditation, yoga, chiropractic, massage and acupuncture are alternative therapies that can help promote restful sleeps. As a last and, ideally, short-term resort you can consider the use of prescription sleep medications. While this is not the preferred option, providers will generally agree that the damage caused by poor sleep far outweighs the risk of short-term use of medication.
Questions for your doctor:
- How might insomnia or sleep apnea be related to my autoimmune disorder?
- Should I get tested at a sleep clinic?
- What are the side effects of sleep medications?
- Do I need a prescription for melatonin?
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com and first published on Sep 18, 2012.
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