The Sleep Debt

Can you really catch up on lost sleep?

Sleep Hygiene for the Rest of Us

All that “good night’s sleep” advice does not help with chronic pain and illness

Articles on good sleep hygiene are all over the internet. I know the recommendations are good ones. It’s just that most of them don’t work for those of us who are living with chronic pain or illness. Here’s a list of typical sleep hygiene recommendations along with my comment on why they might not work for the rest of us

1. Go to sleep at the same time every night.

Nice idea. Unfortunately, pain and other symptoms—not the clock— dictate when I get to go to sleep.

2. Only use your bedroom for sleep or for sex.

The strictest version of this rule includes a ban on these activities: talking on the phone, listening to the radio, watching television, reading, using the computer. But then where would I be writing this article from? My bed is my office, my entertainment center, my dog playpen, my dining room. I like to joke with my husband about how I wrote How to Be Sick in a four-foot-square space. It would have been a two-foot-square space, but my printer is four feet from the bed—still close enough to reach with a good long arm stretch from the bed.

3. Don’t nap during the day.

I can’t get through the day without a nap. I have absolutely no choice here. I consider it a small victory if I only need one nap. I’ve been known to need four.

4. Exercise.

Oh yeah. If it were only possible…

5. Move the TV out of the bedroom.

Good idea—but maybe not for the rest of us who almost live in our bedrooms.

6. If you don’t fall asleep in 15-20 minutes or if you wake up in the middle of the night and don’t fall back asleep in 15-20 minutes, get out of bed, go into another room, do something non-stimulating for a half hour, and then try again.

Okay. First, I NEVER fall asleep in 15-20 minutes. It takes me longer than that to get comfortable. Then once I’m comfortable, I have to wait until the symptom parade calms down. On a good night, I’m asleep after about 45-60 minutes. On a bad night…we’ll, let’s not go there.

Second, (and this may be the only piece of valuable advice in this article), I’ve discovered that I feel much better the next day if I don’t get out of bed when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. I “fake sleep," meaning I lie in bed in my usual sleep position and pretend to sleep. I’ve tried both—getting up v. fake sleeping. For me, the latter makes the day to come much more bearable.

I’m pleased to announce that I've mastered the art of fake sleeping. In the upper left is a picture that perfectly depicts this art form!

© 2012 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com

You might also like "Six Common Misconceptions about the Chronically Ill."

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

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The Sleep Debt