Sleep: Why It’s Important For Those With Autoimmune Disease, And How To Get More Of It

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Along with working on my circadian rhythm by using the tips outlined in this post, making an effort to get my sleep on track has been absolutely essential to my healing journey. I thought I would share some information about the importance of sleep along with some tips to help you troubleshoot any problems that may be interfering with your ability to get quality rest every night.

Why is sleep important? I love how Chris Kresser puts it in this article – you cannot be healthy without adequate sleep. While we sleep, our body maintains and repairs itself, which is absolutely essential to maintaining health. Sleep enhances our mental clarity, helps us cope with stress, boosts mood, gives us energy, improves immunity, and keeps all of our organ systems in working order.

Borrowing from Chris’ article, some of the effects of sleep deprivation are as follows:

  • Impaired immunity
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Cognitive decline
  • Mood and mental health problems
  • Systemic inflammation
  • Increased risk of death

In light of this, our culture still seems obsessed with productivity, at the expense of sleep. Many of us force our bodies to stay up past sundown, which is when our bodies expect to go to bed. Coupled with the use of computers, phones, and other devices, this can really mess up the delicate balance of hormones that are needed to induce and maintain sleep. Often we miss the ideal window of going to bed and get a second wind, making it even more difficult to fall asleep. Hormonal imbalances, the use of stimulants, blood sugar issues, and chronic stress are all contributing factors to not being able to stay asleep once going to bed. A big trend in our culture is not even allowing ourselves to have enough time for a full night’s rest, with most people getting around six hours a night (when in reality most of us need 8 or 9). This leaves a person waking up feeling exhausted and unrefreshed and needing stimulants like coffee to get going in the morning.

Getting enough sleep for a “healthy” person seems extremely difficult – just think about how much harder that can be for someone with autoimmune disease! The pain, depression, and stress that come with  autoimmunity can often make it even more difficult to get good quality sleep. Our bodies typically have a lot more inflammation and repair to deal with on a daily basis, meaning that sleep may be more important to us than the average person. Because of this, I think any good plan to manage one’s autoimmunity should place an emphasis on making sure they are getting adequate sleep.

Some tips to help you sleep better:

  • Don’t go to bed on a full stomach. Try to give yourself a few hours before your last meal and bedtime, in order to allow for adequate digestion and proper hormone signaling.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. I like to take a little walk after dinner and then take a bath and read before bed. If you get into a routine of slowly relaxing and getting into the mood for sleep, your body will get into the habit of preparing for sleep.
  •  Create a comfortable, dark sleeping environment. If your room does not get completely dark, you may want to invest in a set of black-out curtains or an eye mask. Ear plugs are a good idea if you can’t control noise in your house. Invest in a nice set of sheets and keep your bed clean and cozy.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Both caffeine and blood sugar issues can contribute to problems falling or staying asleep.
  • Consider making your bedroom a “no technology” zone. I find that I have a better time sleeping when I don’t bring my devices into the bedroom with me. I even went as far as investing in a battery-powered clock for my nightstand so that I could get my phone (which I was previously using as an alarm) out of the room. I no longer feel compelled to check my phone every time it buzzes or dings should I forget to turn it off.
  • Reduce your exposure to blue light before bed. Don’t use the computer or have your lights on a couple of hours before bed, or use F.lux or amber-tinted glasses to manage your exposure.
  • Use stress-management tools throughout the day. I find that when I take steps to manage my stress during the day, like meditating or walking, I sleep much better.

My experience with sleep issues

When I think back to when my health started to decline, one of the first things I remember was having trouble sleeping. I had always been energetic and healthy before, but it wasn’t very long after I started having trouble with my sleep that I started noticing other symptoms cropping up. By the time I got my diagnosis and started working on my health, my sleep problems were quite severe. Instead of crediting my success to one strategy or supplement, I really think that I was able to get back on track because I made it a huge priority in my healing. I am finally at the place where I am sleep well, and wake up refreshed and energetic – almost too much so, as I am unable to stay in bed past 6! I occasionally have trouble falling asleep, but I attribute that to being on the computer too late or not doing enough stress-relieving activities during the day. I have noticed that when I am stressed out the first thing to be affected is my sleep, and some not-so-fun autoimmune symptoms are sure to follow, so I make it a priority to get back on track.

What strategies do you use to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep?

Further Reading:

The Importance Of Sleep: https://www.thepaleomom.com/2013/04/teaser-excerpt-from-the-paleo-approach-the-importance-of-sleep.html

Chris Kresser’s Tips On Sleep: https://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-8-sleep-more-deeply

How Artificial Light Is Wrecking Your Sleep: https://chriskresser.com/how-artificial-light-is-wrecking-your-sleep-and-what-to-do-about-it

Light and Sleep from Mark’s Daily Apple: https://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-light-affects-our-sleep/

About Mickey Trescott

Mickey Trescott is a co-founder here at Autoimmune Wellness. After recovering from her own struggle with both Celiac and Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue, and multiple vitamin deficiencies, Mickey started to write about her experience to share with others and help them realize they are not alone in their struggles. She is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner by the Nutritional Therapy Association, and is the author of three best-selling books--The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook, and The Nutrient-Dense Kitchen. You can watch her AIP cooking demos and get a glimpse of life on the farm by following her on Instagram.

13 comments

  • Amy says

    This post is timely for me. My sleeping patterns got disturbed by extreme stress several months ago, which triggered autoimmune symptoms as well as adrenal fatigue. So, I have been working to make sleep a priority. Like you, stress management is important for a restful night’s sleep. I also try hard to honor when my body says it’s tired–not try to keep pushing to get more done. I also rely on melatonin when I can tell I will be struggling to sleep through the night. I really want to invest in amber-tinted glasses for the computer and TV. Thank you for all the good suggestions!

  • Megan says

    I did not realize how important sleep is to health until I wasn’t getting it. One of my first pregnancy symptoms was insomnia (now I realize it was hormonal imbalance combined with underlying autoimmune issues). My son just turned one and I still have occasional bouts of insomnia and constant fatigue. But I’m getting back on track!

    For me, blackout curtains didn’t work – they actually made me more tired and I couldn’t wake up. I found myself struggling to get out of bed at all. A little natural light helps me wake without an alarm clock.

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  • Michelle Hawkins says

    I’m getting a ton of expensive blood work done Feb 3rd at hospital apt. Scheduled I had to have 2cof many tests preauthorized to make sure they’d be of for. So far we’re ok. My new arthritis and rheumatology Dr. at rebound hospital is my Dr. now. Then ordered a bone density. Easy test. I have a lot of newer arthritis and pain due to falling hiking in a 60 foot down landing in culvert and nearly died in2014. Now always in pain. Having trouble sleeping. Had traumatic event happen last week. I’m wired and anxiety meds on forever are not working. My bed was a tossed mess this am when woke up quickly. I found 8bstomachbpills on floor in closet I think I’m sleepwalking again as I did as a child a lot. All over the floor. And I have a cat. She was sick yesterday. I’m afraid she ate one their tiny. And threw up a lot. But today is fine and eating again and drinking. I got into a counseling and medication and art therapy place today after my trauma event last week. Thank God. I have my long evaluation today on my birthday but I wanted help everywhere else sexual assault advocates gave me have long long wait lists I’m on. So they can accept me and my insurance so I’ll get that done on phone today and start in person next week they assured me. Maybe I’ll start sleeping better when I get help.normallyvi sleep like 8 to 9 hours. Now? 2 to 3 and jittery and anxious. It’s aweful. So I have severe medical issues will find out tests ina a week and half or so with possible autoimmune disease and def arthritis. Getting gel knee injections preauthorized now will take a week or up to 2. Series of 3 in er knee first. 1 per week each week. Need ALL 3 to work. So pray I get help fast. I’m wired yet ansty. I m missing my adult classy coloring book and colored pencils I had asxa gift before I moved here I list the nice set. But my counciling said they offer art therapy too and many other programs. I feel blessed but needed days ago. I need to breathe and get to bed but can’t. I’m watching my cat sleep now. I’m glad I made it to my birthday today I’m 54 and spending today after interview in phone with my dad. I’m excited. He’s sleeping fine. We both always slept well. My story is mind blowing and aweful. I won’t discuss for legal reasons and personal reasons on the net.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Michelle, I’m sorry to hear of your struggles, and sending wishes that you find some answers and improvement soon.

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