Chronic illness and good sleep never go hand-in-hand. In fact, your health has the power to interrupt your sleep cycle dramatically. Eventually, sleepless nights and restless days leave you in a state of permanent fatigue from when you wake up. So, when you wake up already drained or sore – it can be hard to find the motivation to get out of bed. Here’s what you need to make mornings easier with a chronic illness.
To make mornings easier when you have a chronic illness, you should:
- Prepare for mornings in advance by doing mindful activities that promote better sleep.
- Allocate a lot of extra time when you wake up to gauge your body’s needs and adjust to the environment.
- Be serious about your mental health. Light therapy, daily routine, and positive affirmations are all important.
Often, you actually dread getting out of bed in the mornings as much as you dread trying to fall asleep at night. The more tired you are, the more your body struggles to rest because of other symptoms like pain. The more pain you have, the lower your chances of feeling ready for the day when you wake up.
The whole ordeal is stressful and creates a vicious negative cycle. Although there is no silver bullet or formula to change this. There are ways you can make mornings easier on yourself so that slowly begin to break that cycle.
Before you dive into these practical solutions, I highly recommend starting off slowly. You can keep adding more suggestions as you go along, but be mindful of how you feel with each step you take so that you can track improvement instead of confusion.
The Basics of Good Sleep When You Have a Chronic Illness
A lot of spoonies reading this article probably suffer from fibromyalgia or another chronic illness that results in symptoms like:
When I wake up, I can expect all of these symptoms and more, especially when I don’t take care of myself. So, before I get into my advice, I just want to go over the basics of certain good habits that can help you sleep.
I know that a chronic illness makes it feel impossible to implement self-care rituals. And when you are knee-deep in the worst of your condition, you couldn’t care less about things like eating well.
Gently remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. GOOD JOB! No, there might not be a silver bullet that’ll cure you. But every small healthy habit you implement will help you lead a healthier life in the long run.
And if someone tells you that ‘diet and exercise’ will help you sleep better and wake up stronger – just smile. They just don’t get it, and you can’t expect them to. But basic advice like that does lay a better foundation for you to work off. So, I do want to touch on it quickly.
Healthy Habits for Better Sleep
- Diet – What you eat can help or hinder your sleep a lot, and something that hinders it badly is sugar. Although a carbo-loaded meal with lots of sugar will make you feel sleepy faster – it only worsens the quality of your sleep. Overall, you just want to avoid foods high in refined sugar, salt and saturated fats.
Alcohol is another big no-no before bed. Once again, it may make you sleepy, but once you are asleep, the quality of rest you get is terrible.
But there are also some foods that boost your melatonin levels and help with restorative sleep. Nuts, especially almonds, are a great snack to help you sleep. Other great foods are turkey, fatty fish, tart cherries, kiwi fruit and chamomile tea.
- Exercise – Depending on your condition and your physical limits, exercise can take shape in many different forms. When I was in my wheelchair, the most I could do was some arm strengthening exercises. It wasn’t much, but it got my heart racing, and that’s the most important thing.
Of course, chat to your doctor before you do anything. You might not be able to exercise at all. But usually, when it comes to chronic illness and not an injury, some movement is good. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise 4 times a week prevents insomnia as it helps more oxygen get to your brain.
Yoga is one of the best ways to exercise in a gentle way. It’s such a diverse practice that you can definitely adjust it to fit your physical needs. You can read more about what will work for you here: What is the Best Yoga for Chronic Pain?
- Hydration – This is an incredibly important aspect of good sleep that you need to pay attention to, especially if you take a lot of painkillers. Many medications we take are incredibly dehydrating. The more dehydrated you are, the more likely you’ll have dry-mouth, headaches and muscle cramps during the night.
And even more shockingly, if your sleep cycle is interrupted a lot (which I presume it is), it can actually make your body retain more water and cause further dehydration.
The best thing you can do is keep drinking fluids consistently during the day. Set a timer if you tend to forget! Just remember that not all drinks are made the same – some are dehydrating. Water, herbal tea and even enough fruits and veg will boost hydration levels.
Things like coffee, alcohol and sugary soda are all big no-no’s as they are very dehydrating.
Daily Adjustments for Better Sleep When You’re Chronically Ill
Getting decent sleep when you’re chronically ill can feel like a fairy tale. There were points in my life where I dreaded the idea of sleep because my pain was unbearable. Trust me, the no-tech rule before bed goes out the window if it’s the only thing that keeps your mind distracted.
Just remember to be kind to yourself and take things day by day. Implementing any of the suggestions I share will take a shift in mindset. BUT YOU CAN DO IT!
- Practice meditation and mindfulness – this is not about “clearing your mind”. It’s about being present in the moment without any attachment. You’re not going into a trance. Instead, you’re learning about patience and acceptance. Mindfulness teaches you to be still and trust yourself. Both are incredibly important qualities when you need to let your mind and body rest.
- Get some reading in – besides the fact that it limits your exposure to LED light before bed. Reading is a great sleep assistant as it is a stress reducer. Plus, focusing on a story means you’re thinking about someone else’s problems instead of your own, so it takes your mind off personal issues.
- Take your medication at the right time – I’m referring to pain killers, muscle or nerve relaxants, sleeping tablets and anything else that makes you drowsy.
Try to take these meds so that you get tired around the time you want to sleep and at least eight hours before you want to wake up. The second part is crucial. Otherwise, that lethargic, groggy feeling gets carried to the next day. With brain fog, pain and exhaustion – you don’t need this too.
- Invest in a good mattress and pillow – the right orthopaedic bed and pillow will make a huge difference to the way you sleep. It helps keep your alignment steady, relieves stress on your back and stop the build-up of pressure points.
If you have arthritis, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia or similar types of chronic pain – this is a must for you.
- Regulate your room temperature – chances are you already struggle to thermoregulate, especially when you sleep. I don’t know how many times I’ve woken up in puddles of my own sweat because of pain.
A cooler room will help you boost melatonin production so that you can fall asleep and stay asleep more effectively. Just remember to have a warm comforter so that you can still be cosy when you need it.
- Do some bedtime yoga – a bit of restorative yoga for chronic illness management goes a long way before bed. Not only does it help you achieve a calm state of mind, lower pain and boost your immune system – but it makes you focus on slow, deep breathing.
Overall, this slows your heart rate down, drops your blood pressure and give your body a needed oxygen boost. Best of all? You can do these movements from bed – they take very little physical exertion, which is perfect when your body is tender or tired.
One of the best things to learn is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. I promise you that it’ll change your life.
- Dim the lights – you really ought to avoid all bright lights before sleep as they will only stimulate your mind. By dimming the lights, you give yourself the natural melatonin boost needed to get sleepy.
- Prepare for your day the night before – one of the most daunting things about waking up is the numerous tasks that need to be done by a specific time. It’s stressful and unhealthy for anyone with a chronic illness.
Some days it’s impossible to even get out of bed. So, the best thing you can do is make your mornings easier by setting up your meds, laying out the clothes you want to wear, organising your meals, and even having water by your bedside table.
How to Wake Up When You Have a Chronic Illness
- Give yourself a lot of time – mornings are HARD. Just gathering enough energy “spoons” to get out of bed can feel impossible. So, it’s really important to give yourself a lot of time.
I prefer setting my alarm clock a bit earlier, just so I can make that transition out of bed in a more relaxed manner. The last thing you want to do is rush and get your adrenaline amped before you’ve even left the bed.
I love the fact that getting up earlier means I can slowly take my meds, sit by the heater and warm my joints up while I sip on a cup of tea. It also gives me the chance to be mindful of my body and get an idea of what hurts – so I have a better idea of my physical capabilities for that day.
The next set of tips I recommend will also all work super well if you give you choose to give yourself enough time to get up in the morning.
- Do some light stretches from bed – if you wake up feeling stiff, sore and uncomfortable, stretching from the bed will help relieve these symptoms. So, before your feet touch the ground, move around in bed and do some gentle yoga stretches (as you did the night before).
This gets your circulation going, loosens your joints and warms up your muscles naturally. It’s also ideal if you suffer from Raynaud’s phenomenon.
- Take a shower – if you have enough spoons, then I highly recommend starting your day with a shower. The water can loosen any tension you’re holding and relieve symptoms of anxiety or stress.
A hot shower is incredibly good for your muscles, joints and circulation – whereas a cooler shower can help you get out of that morning brain fog, boost energy and generate mental alertness.
- Have a routine in place – please know that I am not suggesting you jump out of bed and have a jam-packed day. When it comes to routine, it’s a really valuable thing to implement and adjust to fit your lifestyle, taking your chronic illness into serious consideration.
A routine helps generate stability, reliability and direction in your daily life. Even if it’s really not easy, and you will need to make adjustments according to how you feel every day, you will still feel a sense of purpose every day.
So, if you can only start your day at 10 am, do some yoga and get to work by midday – you are still moving forward, and that’s an incredibly rewarding thing.
- Repeat your daily affirmation – for a long time; I felt daily affirmations were not worth my time and effort. It seemed silly to repeat the same thing to myself all the time, especially since it seemed fake. Here’s what I know now:
Daily affirmations don’t need to be built on toxic positivity.
You need to truly believe what you’re saying to yourself.
Repeating the same thing every day helps keep that thought top of mind so it can manifest.
If you’re interested in using daily affirmations to help specifically with chronic illness, you should definitely read this no-nonsense article. It cuts all the fluff and leaves you with real and honest statements you can affirm to yourself: 100 Affirmations for Chronic Illness That Really Work (With Printables)
Things That Make Waking Up Easier With a Chronic Illness
- Light therapy lamp – how many times have you woken up only to doze right off to sleep again? This is normal when you’re taking lots of meds, have continuous poor sleep quality and struggling with mental health.
Direct sunlight is a powerful way to boost your serotonin levels. So why not hone in on that? A proper light therapy lamp will help give you a positive kick in starting your day, especially if you wake up while it’s still dark outside.
- Heating products – if you struggle with the cold, then it’s worth kitting out your room with a couple of things that will keep you warm.
Central heating is one of the most important aspects of keeping your body temperature from dropping too much as you get out of bed. You can also use a heating rack to warm up your clothes and a microwavable heating pad that straps around your body where you need it the most.
- Cooling products – if you struggle with the heat, on the other hand, the most important thing is to keep your room cooler at night so that you don’t overheat and disrupt your rest. You can also use a fan and ensure you have a good quality flask filled with ice water next to your bed that will remain cold throughout the night.
- A soft mat by your bed – our feet need a lot more care than we often give them. And the wrong support can actually cause far more pain to our bodies than we need.
Something really useful is to keep a soft, memory foam mat by the side of your bed, so you don’t shock your body by touching the cold, hard ground. Keep a pair of slippers close by and use these items to stop your body from absorbing the cold in a way that’s painful.
- Breakfast – If you wake up feeling groggy, eating a big breakfast might not be your best bet. Although it doesn’t mean you should avoid eating altogether. Try and have something small but healthy that gives you sustainable energy.
If you have a cup of coffee, followed by sugary cereal – chances are your inflammation will flare, you’ll feel more pain, and you’ll be ready for a nap again in an hour.
Oats, whole grain products, fresh fruit, eggs, nut butter, tomatoes and avocados are all great foods to start your day with. They are all anti-inflammatory, high in nutrients your body depends on and provides sustainable energy.
Read on here for how to consider your chronic illness when cooking: 12 Energy-Saving Cooking Tips When You’re Chronically Ill
- Music – did you know that music can be a non-pharmacological form of chronic pain management? Indeed, music can lower your perceived levels of pain at that moment. And I must say, when I could track comes on, I can definitely get lost in the moment.
Something I like to do is get my favourite music going first thing in the morning so that my focus is partially on that instead of entirely on my pain. It’s also a great way to boost endorphins, especially if you start swaying to the beat a bit.
- Chronic illness progress app – sometimes one of the most difficult things about getting out of bed is the discipline it takes. As it is, you’re not in a good space and starting your day may be the last thing on your mind – so a little bit of gentle, kind encouragement goes a long way.
Luckily, there are apps specifically designed to help you wake up, track your daily goals, receive positive feedback on your progress thus far, and get the most out of your day ahead. And most have a free basic programme!
You can find my favourite, reviewed ones here: The 13 Best Apps For People with a Chronic Illness
Use Your ‘Spoons’ Wisely for More Morning Energy
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “spoonie”, it is used to describe anyone with a chronic illness who suffers from limited amounts of energy. It evolved from the ‘spoon theory’ – a clever analogy used to show how your energy levels are limited when you have a chronic illness – using spoons!
Spoons equal energy
Christine Miserandino is a fellow chronic illness warrior who came up with the spoon theory while trying to explain to a friend of hers how much energy it takes for us to complete a task and what it means when we run out.
Each spoon you have will give you enough energy to complete one task that day. Call it an energy ‘currency’. So when you accomplish a task, it costs you a spoon.
If you run out of spoons for the day – that’s it! No more energy to do anything else. And there’s no guarantee on how many spoons you’ll be given for tomorrow.
So just like we all manage our money by forwarding planning, organising, investing and saving – anyone with a chronic illness is forced to do the same with their energy.
Here’s why this is so important for better sleep:
- Your spoons get replenished while you sleep. So, the better the quality of rest, the more spoons of energy you’re likely to have for the next day.
- If you want to “go into debt” by using tomorrow’s spoons now, you have no idea how much you will be able to replenish while you sleep.
- When you overexert yourself one day, and it leaves you depleted and sore – you’re likely to be very tired, but that doesn’t mean you will sleep well. Often, the pain will stop you from getting restful sleep that night. So you still need some energy left if you want to rest.
- Unlike money, there’s no bargaining process with your spoons of energy. If you run out – that’s it! So, it’s important to use your spoons wisely during the day.
- You cannot replenish spoons without rest – so if you don’t get enough good sleep, it can throw you off for days to come.
If you’re interested in drawing up your own spoonie chart and learning how to manage your spoons for better sleep, this article is perfect for you: What is Spoonie (Includes Free Poster and Chart)
It’ll give you a better idea of how to use your spoons and why they are so important for your sleep cycles too.
As you can see, there are a few things you can do to help make mornings easier with a chronic illness, but a lot needs to be personalised to your needs right now.
The nice thing is that you can take these suggestions and play with them until you find a balance that works for you. And since our conditions do change, as do our needs, you might find you need to revisit this in a couple of months to try out something new.
The most important thing to remember here to that you need to be kind to yourself. Getting enough sleep when you’re chronically ill is extremely hard. So, if you can’t do anything but just watch movies to get through the pain some nights – that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Instead, use some post-sleep techniques to help you feel a bit more refreshed when you wake up – tomorrow is another day.
Let me know if any of these techniques work for you – I’d love to hear your thoughts.