The Role of Sleep in Healing
Updated: Jan 26
Just wow. My excitement was through the roof all of last week, and I was too wired to sleep (which isn’t a good thing!). Several folks connected with me about my blog within hours and days of publishing it, expressing encouragement and empathy. I thank you, friends.
This is exactly the vision I had in mind, that my story and the message I want to convey, will matter to those who needed them. And if they don’t matter to you and you happen to be here, well you might just be curious as well - if there is someone in your life going through the same thing, do share my blog site. It might help them - even for the simple fact that they are not alone, and there is a community they can run to, or in my case read, who knows EXACTLY what it is like to go through the same dire illness.
Speaking of illness, I have been catching up on sleep in the last four days, and I thank God that quality sleep is a thing. Can you imagine how life would have been like without it? Deep sleep sustains us through our waking hours, and it does its important work to repair, restore, replenish our body that can happen only when we're sleeping.
"Improving the quality, duration, and timing of your sleep is one of the single most powerful interventions you can make to improve your health." ~ Chris Kresser
With illness like graves’ disease though, my insomnia could get intense. That is because my body is always turned on, never stopping. My cortisol is rising, and it never lowers down like it’s supposed to when the sun sets. If you’re struggling with insomnia, in one form of another, please get help. Sleep is one of the two MOST important factors that help our bodies heal, the other one being nourishment.
Since April of 2018 I have been having bouts of insomnia, and I thought "it was just me”. Come on already, I say to myself, stop your mind from whirring and get to sleep! I thought that it was all in my head, as I toss and turn hopelessly, desperate for that elusive sleep. Some nights are better than others, but it wasn't until I started my holistic approach of treatment for graves’ disease that I experience deep and rejuvenating sleep. Except last week when I was up all night in excitement over this whole blog thing. Haha!
What are the signs that your sleep pattern probably needs boosting? Based on personal experience, they include....
trouble falling asleep, even after 2 hours and 10 million sheep counted in bed
trouble staying asleep
waking up between 2:00 to 4:00 am startled, like you are suddenly awake
shallow sleeping, the feeling that half of you is awake while the other half is nodding off
being extremely tired when the alarm goes off and your body feels like bolted to bed with heavy chains (do you feel me?)
sleeping through the night like a log, but still feels so fatigued in the morning, even after more than 9 hours of sleep
If these are all familiar to you, then we are all in the same boat here. Many of us are distracted by the noise in our heads or the blue light from our devices, but some of us really have an underlying illness, and our body is telling us to do something. Our bodies have AMAZING mechanisms, and I’m ignorant in medical language, but from the little research that I’ve done on autoimmune disorder, I am just utterly mind-blown by how fascinatingly complex a human body really is! When God created us, he definitely knew what he was doing!!!
Back to sleep. We do need quality sleep, so let’s be kind to our body and give it what it needs. How? That’s tricky because we are all uniquely different. But in general here are my personal tips.
Get tested for nutritional and hormonal levels - if our bodies are deficient on something, it will do all sorts of things (like symptoms) to tell you that it is not functioning optimally - listen to what your body is saying.
Once your tests come back, get the hormones (preferably bioidentical), vitamins and minerals that you’re low on, and make sure they are of good quality (visit a health food store if you have access, because some of the pills out there are doing more harm than help). Your levels should be at their optimum, that’s the gauge. It you’re low on something, but it’s still in the normal range, you already need help to function optimally. If you have resources, talk to a medical practitioner about this, look for an “integrative doctor” close to you, and consider booking an initial visit.
Remember, this is not all in your head. Our symptoms and diseases are more physiological than we give them credit for! A friend said to me, it’s all mind over matter. I would respectfully argue, you cannot just “will” an illness away when a chemical or nutritional or cellular issue is REALLY going on in your body!!! Period.
Eat a balanced nutritional meal for dinner, I know this is so true for me. I found out by research that the reason for waking up between 2:00-4:00 in the morning is low sugar levels. If we eat what our body needs, and eliminate our food sensitivities, it will sustain us daily, even in our sleep. If we keep on eating the food we're sensitive to, it will compound the problem and may lead to some more chronic issues.
Exercise moderately and go outdoors, to get the sun in your eyes and breathe fresh air. It doesn't matter what the weather is like, just layer up if it's snowing out. Today I went for a 30-minute walk in subzero weather (-10 deg celcius) and it wasn't that bad at all.
Write down the things in your head, your to-do lists, groceries lists, house chores lists, worry lists (yes it's a thing!), and leave them all on paper. They will all be there in the morning for you to pick up again.
Develop a good sleep hygiene. We are all different here, so explore some ideas and try it out for yourself. For me this means putting my phone away and picking up a book instead. This is crucial as I get easily stimulated with social media, and this bad habit is quite tough to break. If you need to, take a social media detox for a week, and see how it helps. Before writing this I deactivated my FB for 11 days, and it.was.so.good! This is still my struggle though, so there are nights when I intentionally let my phone's battery drain out, or delete some apps - just so I could get to and stay asleep. I charge it in the morning and download the apps again hahaha! (Hey, whatever it takes to help myself heal.)
Part of it too is not watching or reading graphic things before bedtime, and trying to avoid emotional conversations that will upset you for hours in bed. Instead, try taking a warm bath with epsom salt and essential oils (like lavender), turn off the light and play some soothing music.
A good sleep hygiene for me also means taking my nighttime supplements early (I take Magnesium and Progesterone at 5:00 PM), because my body is just too hyper from graves’ disease. And then when I put on my “sleeping outfit” I do it intentionally. This means being aware of what I’m doing, helping my brain cue in, that hey it’s time to wind down and rest. For some this may mean sleeping naked, and this could do you some wonders.
The room temperature is also important, it should be cooler than I would prefer when I'm awake. This has been a new discovery, because all along I thought I needed to be warm to sleep soundly. I tried lowering it to 3 degrees than our ideal temperature, and it seem to be really working for me.
If you can afford it, sleep without limiting yourself. This is hard I know because we all need to work so we can pay our bills and sleep properly. (Which is the chicken and which one is the egg here haha!? Work first? Sleep first?) I would say health comes first. And today I can actually say those words with conviction - because of graves’ disease, I took some time off from work to heal and catch up on my sleep debts!! I figured, no one else will pay my sleep debts for me but myself. For the first 12 days of medical leave, I waited every night until sleep comes, with a book about autoimmune disorder, and then I slept until my body says, okay I've done my repair job and it's time to wake up! It was amazing. For you it may mean doing this intentionally on the weekends.
PRAY (that word should stand by itself, no further explanations needed here)
In the first two weeks since I practiced some or all of these things, I’ve been feeling so good about my sleep. I feel refreshed in the mornings, and no longer feel bolted to bed with chains. I actually feel better than I had been feeling in the last two years in relation to sleep.
I even gave up coffee the cold turkey way (abruptly and completely) and I’m happy to report that I don’t need any coffee or tea or energy drinks in the morning. That in itself is a great thing.
Oh quality sleep, what a wonderful thing! I pray that it will only get better from here. If not, then I will make some more changes to help my body get what it is needing.
If your sleep sucks and you think it is affecting how you function during the day, or causing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, you are most likely correct. Sleep is vital to our overall wellness, and if you want to get on the health wagon, jump right in by evaluating your quality of sleep. Be intentional about it and give it your best shot!
Reach out to me if you have thoughts on this and I will be so happy to connect! Here’s to healing naturally! Cheers!
"Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on Earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch." ~Parker J. Palmer