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My Sleep Aids: Fall Asleep Naturally

29 Jan
As the sun sets it is time to turn our attention to preparing for sleep © Jess Bruce 2016

As the sun sets it is time to turn our attention to preparing for sleep © Jess Bruce 2016

With falling asleep having been rather problematic for me of late, I have gone back to basics and reintroduced a better bedtime routine.

I had gotten lazy with a bedtime routine thanks to the powers of melatonin. I knew that within an hour of taking the magic white pill I would be blissfully and peacefully asleep. I did not need to do anything else to cultivate good sleep. I fell asleep quickly and easily. I slept through the night and I woke up feeling rested and refreshed. Job done.

Take the melatonin away and things unravelled somewhat.

So I have turned to more natural sleep aids. These are simple things that encourage the body to relax and slow down, preparing it for sleep. They all support the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our bodies that is responsible for rest and recuperation. That is oversimplifying but for this post suffice to say, it is vital to have a strong and supported parasympathetic nervous system for good sleep (and generally to be a calm and healthy human being).

Before I share these with you, I will say that it is very easy to get very officious about a bedtime routine (if you’re a neurotic type A person such as myself at least). I of course did this in the first week or so when I was overwhelmed and stressed out by not being able to sleep – see this post about frantic stressed Jess.

I was anxious to ensure I did each and every thing on my bedtime to do list each and every night. Needing to mentally tick them all off because otherwise I wouldn’t sleep. This meant my bedtime routine started super early and I barely got to see Mr B when he came home from work which just further stressed me out. I can get stressed about everything it seems.

But this ‘I must do bedtime yoga and then I must have a bath and I must drink my tea and I must mediate for 15 minutes and I must clean the windows and cleanse the bedroom of bad air and and and and and AND – pop, I just burst into flames with all the stress! (And just to be clear, I am kidding about cleaning and cleansing the bedroom before bed…) Anyway, all this ‘I must’  (and just as bad ‘I should’) simply serves to undermine the wonderful support that a good bedtime routine comprising natural sleep aids can bring.

So, take a little or a lot of what I list below. Do some. Do none. But don’t try and do them all with the mindset that if you don’t hit all of them before bed that somehow you’ve failed or that you won’t sleep because guess what, then you won’t sleep well!

A Gentle Touch

Be kind and gentle to yourself by cultivating a calm and accepting approach to sleep (or lack thereof). Soothe yourself with reassuring words. See this post on how I’m doing this for myself.

My sleep tea © Jess Bruce 2016

My sleep tea © Jess Bruce 2016

A Cup of Tea

Make yourself a small cup of tea to sip as you relax before bed. But not just any tea – black caffeinated tea is obviously not the drink of choice here. Liquorice, peppermint, lavender, oat flower, chamomile and fennel are all said to encourage the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems. And variations of these flavours are widely available to buy as teas (and are just about all also located in my kitchen cupboard). My preferred sleep tea though is a DIY job:

1/2 tsp dill seeds

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp peppermint leaves

combine all in a tea pot or bag, cover with freshly boiled water and allow to steep for five minutes before straining and slowly sipping as you unwind ready for bed.

Bed time Yoga

Taking the time to stretch your body before bed is wonderfully soothing and quieting for both your body and your mind. I love this routine by Yoga with Adriene and this one by Sarah Beth Yoga.

A Warm Bath

Soaking in a warm bubble bath is blissful. I like to dim the lights, light some candles and listen to some classical music. Or I sometimes listen to a short relaxation track or meditation whilst in the tub. I like this one by Faith Hunter.

My night time magic potions © Jess Bruce 2016

My night time magic potions © Jess Bruce 2016

Lavender oil

I have used lavender to help me sleep since I was a small child. Back then my Mum would dab it on one of my Dad’s handkerchiefs for me to smell as I tried to drift off (I was notorious for not falling asleep easily, especially before any big event, Christmas, birthdays, first day of school, vacations…and when I was awake my Mum wasn’t allowed to sleep either!)

Fast forward to today and the technology has advanced slightly but the principle is still the same. I have a little lavender oil roll-on that I keep on my nightstand and use on my temples and wrist pressure points as I climb into bed. For me the smell is calming and brings back wonderful childhood memories (of happy moments not of sleepless nights, my Mum may say the latter!)

Rescue Sleep

I love Bach Flower Remedies and have used the original Rescue Remedy during times of acute stress and nerves throughout my life (remembering University exams, teeth extractions, big work meetings etc) to quell my anxiety.

Recently, I have been taking Rescue Sleep each night. It is a natural sleep aid made from 6 of the original Bach Flower Remedies known for their effectiveness at reducing stress, irritation, and worries; thus calming the emotions, enabling the body to sleep. I have it in the original drops format but it also comes as pastilles.

Breathing

Our breath is an excellent barometer for our mind. A slow and steady, calm breath reflects a calm mind and vice versa. In Kundalini yoga the left nostril is seen as calming and directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system (whilst the right nostril is stimulating and energising). So gently blocking off your right nostril with your right hand thumb and slowly inhaling and exhaling just through your left is very soothing and very helpful in inducing sleep. I’ve been doing this for at least ten breaths when I get into bed each night.

Not forgetting the basics

And of course then there’s the much spoken about basics of a bedtime routine. Try and have a fixed time for going to bed and for waking up in the morning. This helps cement your body’s circadian rhythms enabling you to fall asleep more easily. Even if I’m not getting to sleep until late I still generally set an alarm for 7.30 am so that I don’t perpetuate the not getting to sleep cycle at night by having slept in late. Though on that last point, be flexible. Sometimes extra sleep is essential just to get through the day.

Make sure your bedroom is dark and you are protected from as many disturbances as possible – I’m the cool kid sleeping in a blindfold and ear plugs! Well I don’t want to wake up with Mr B’s insane 5.30 am gym session alarm now do I?!

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, the many things I have been using to sleep better. The tea, Rescue Sleep, breathing and lavender oil seem to be really helping. And I tend to do bath or yoga, though not every night. I try and channel my first point and be kind and gentle on myself and do what I feel intuitively will help me that night.

Do you have a bedtime routine? What do you find helps you sleep well? Or are you naturally a good sleeper? (grrrrr I hate admire you!) Please comment below!

Have you read my About Me page recently? I have updated it to reflect how far I have come in the last few years in my journey thru ME/CFS. You can find it in the menu tabs above or by clicking here

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A Gentler, More Peaceful Approach

21 Jan
I am calm and serene just like the Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand. © Jess Bruce 2015

I am calm and serene just like the Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand. © Jess Bruce 2016

As was abundantly apparent from my last post, my lack of sleep was a source of great stress and tension for me. This state of mind was doing nothing to help resolve the situation. If anything it was simply making things worse. Stress and poor sleep go hand in hand, powering each other on, in one big sticky trap.

Notice the use of the past tense. Sleep, or rather my lack of it, was causing me much stress. But now I am happy to report I am no longer stressed about it (okay perhaps I am still a teensy bit concerned, but this is a work in progress. Baby steps = moving in the right direction and good enough for me). 

Am I sleeping perfectly? Erm I wish. Am I sleeping as well as I was before I stopped taking my sleep medication, sadly not. Am I sleeping slightly better than a week ago? There’s still a long way to go, but yes, touch wood, bow in thanks to the sleep Gods, yes I am falling asleep a little quicker. But the drop in stress levels came before this, albeit minor, improvement.

A shift in my approach to my sleep has taken the heat out of the situation. A calmer, more peaceful, more neutral approach to not being able to fall asleep, has dampened down the fiery aggressive ball of stress that engulfed me last week. And in turn is helping me to sleep a little better. And I know if I can continue this calmer more conciliatory approach, restful, refreshing sleep will come back to me.

By coming off medications, my body is going through a period of huge change. And as much as change produces uncomfortable, and for want of a better word, icky, feelings, the situation is not dangerous. It is not life threatening. Bumps in the road, such as dodgy sleep, are all part of transitioning through change. It is a phase. It is temporary. It is normal. It is natural. It is OK. It is necessary to move forward. So with all that in mind, it’s no big deal that my sleep isn’t great at the moment. It is right for me right now and it will pass.

My body is realigning itself. It is adjusting to a new set of circumstances. I have been on medication for the last 5 years. I have taken melatonin to help me sleep since 2012. My body is learning how to function without these tools in its armour. This takes time. And whilst my body grapples with this new landscape, there may be some bumps and a little unpleasantness. Whilst that is uncomfortable and somewhat irritating, it is not life threatening. It is natural, it is normal. It is okay. I am safe. I am okay.

Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand. © Jess Bruce 2016

Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand. © Jess Bruce 2016

And so I keep soothing myself with these messages in gentle and kind tones. I am okay…… I am safe….. I am cultivating a peaceful and conciliatory approach. Letting go of the fighting talk and leaving aside the boxing gloves. They can’t help me. Embodying the stress was just ramping up my poor ME/CFS addled nervous system; making the adrenalin and cortisol corse through my veins at breakneck speed. Adding fuel to the fire of stress burning bright; all taking me further and further away from the calm and quiet frame of mind I crave and the deep restful sleep I want for.

So now, I think to myself, who cares if I sleep tonight. If I don’t fall asleep quickly, what does it matter? It’s actually a good thing. It gives me time to ponder and think, time to read, meditate and relax. Really not drifting off quickly is no bad thing. It is the gift of time. (Okay perhaps I’ve gone a little too far with that last one. But you get my drift.)

I am trying not to grip too tightly to expectations because expectations are often unattainable and frequently missed; especially in times of transition and change. And that just sets you up for feelings of failure which is to stress what oxygen is to a burning flame. And after all, as uncomfortable as it may be, change is often unpredictable. The healthiest and happiest approach is to accept the unexpected and better yet to expect nothing.

I am relinquishing the need for everything to be fixed immediately; removing the urgency and lightning the load. I am accepting that this period of bumps is natural. It is normal. It is temporary. It may be uncomfortable but it is okay. It is not life threatening. I am safe.

In short, there really is no point in stressing about not sleeping well – I could have saved myself the last 700 words and just said that. But gentle repetition of positive phrases is good for the soul.

And so I say one last time. It may be uncomfortable but it is okay. It is normal. It is temporary. It may be uncomfortable but it is okay. It is not life threatening. I am safe.

Perhaps try this approach next time you’re stressed about something seemingly out of your control. It has helped me feel much less overwhelmed and put me back in the driving seat 🙂

Having just written this post, I am now flooded with feelings of deja vu. I have been here before. I have in fact written a post like this before – last year when our house move took on the path of an aggressive rollercoaster ride, and I struggled with the uncertainty and stress of another situation out of my control.  Apparently I’m a slow learner. Or rather in times of struggle and stress it is far too easy to lose your perspective and fail to see the obvious. But hey, next time I’m in a situation that is ramping up my stress levels, I will remember these words of wisdom and not struggle against the stress quite so much. After all, third time’s the charm right?

My Body & I: A New Chapter

15 Jan
Purple lotus beauty

© Jess Bruce 2016

My body and I are in a new relationship. We have started a new chapter. We’re in the early stage of just getting to know each other, learning each other’s ways. I would love to say that it has been all sunshine and roses and love at first sight but that would be a lie. And I don’t want to sugar coat it. I feel it may be a slow burn affair, we’re not quite holding hands yet; rather we are curiously prodding each other with a long stick. We are still quite wary of one another at this early stage but I am confident, my body is the the one for me, and slowly love and admiration will blossom and bloom.

What am I talking about? A good question.

Over the last few months I have gradually weaned myself off all my ME/CFS medication. [Pause for round of applause from adoring fans 🙂 ]

I will state upfront bold and simply right now that I do not recommend you undertake any changes in medication without seeking medical advice first.  I reduced my medication incrementally and very slowly under the strict advice of my doctors. I am not a doctor and do not offer medical advice. I merely share my experience for your interest but if you’re considering medication changes, ****speak to your doctor first****. 

© Jess Bruce 2016

© Jess Bruce 2016

Slightly frenetic medical legal disclaimer jargon aside, returning to the topic at hand, back in September 2015, I was taking 5 medically prescribed drugs to control my ME/CFS symptoms. Having come such a long way in my recovery over the last few years, and with our wedding done and our honeymoon not quite on the horizon, it was a good time to start reducing my dependency on these drugs. I wanted to see how well I actually am now. I feared the medication may be masking symptoms or conversely I hoped that in fact without the medication I would be fine, that I was actually a lot better, meaning that the medication was essentially redundant and I could move into a more natural drug free phase of health and healing.

Although it wasn’t a walk in the park, I am happy to report that the latter turned out to be my new reality. Or at least initially. The months up until Christmas when I gradually weaned myself off the first four medications from my armour went amazingly smoothly. Yes there were some bumps in the road. Yes there were some initial withdrawal side effects but overall the ME/CFS symptoms that I began taking the meds for did not rear their ugly heads. The crippling myalgia did not resurface at all – I am still, touch wood, just about pain free, woohooo! – the head-spinning dizziness did not reappear and there was no discernible prolonged increase in the exhausting fatigue. My erratic digestion and migraines both remained steadily neutral; no better no worse.

So far so good.

And then came the new year and it was time to remove the big one. My sleep remedy, magic melatonin. Ever since I was a child I had struggled with falling asleep. I would lay awake for hours after lights out, tossing and turning, unable to drift off. So when my doctor prescribed me melatonin back in 2012 it literally was a dream come true. Getting to sleep was no longer a chore. I stopped dreading going to bed. The stress I had associated with sleep was removed as I drifted off easily within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and I would wake refreshed and revived.

© Jess Bruce 2016

© Jess Bruce 2016

To be honest melatonin was the one medication I was dreading stopping. But I don’t like the idea of my body being dependent on a synthetic chemical, albeit a hormonal supplement. So having gradually reduced my melatonin dose, on the 2nd of January I went to bed alone, without my friend of the last 4 years. And that is where the trouble really started. My dread was realised. I was expecting it to be bad and so it has been, mind over matter or rather mind determining matter so to speak. I’m back to staring at the ceiling for a good couple of hours after lights out, tossing and turning, getting more and more frustrated because I am so so tired, eyes won’t stay open reading a book in bed and yet for some inexplicable reason I can’t actually flipping fall asleep. Once I turn the light off and lay down, PING, my overactive mind is in overdrive and I’m wide WIDE awake in a big messy wired yet exhausted kind of way annoying the hell out of hubby with my sighing and tossing and turning. I fear the spare room is calling me.

And given sleep is so critical to getting through the day, for everyone, but especially ME/CFS recovering bodies, life hasn’t been pretty these last few weeks. Exhausted. Emotional. Anxious. Overwhelmed. Tired. Irritable. Stuck. Yuck. The only plus side, thanks to being so tired and not really able to function, I have watched a lot of reruns of the West Wing which makes me very happy 🙂

Yep my body and I are in a new relationship. And definitely still wary of one another in our new found landscape. We’re still figuring things out. It’s definitely not a truly madly deeply thing yet. More just truly maddening. We are still learning to trust one another. But it will become everlasting love, I’m sure of it. It will it will IT WILL. I’m going to beat it, squash it, thrash it in to submission to ensure that my body agrees. I will persevere and I will win. Fighting talk hey?

In fact that’s the opposite of what I need to do but I’ll save that for my next post. Until then, sleep well 🙂

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