The Importance of Sleep in Chronic Illness

I have been having lots of trouble sleeping over the last couple of months due to a change in my thyroid medication. It has been so frustrating for me but also for my entire family. You know the old saying, “If Mom isn’t happy, then no one is happy”. That could not have been more true for me over the last couple of months. One can only go so long without sleep. I was averaging two nights a week of only about 4 hours of sleep a night. Not enough for anyone to function properly on, that’s for sure! I become irrational and downright awful to be around when I don’t get enough sleep and it takes me a couple days to recover from a night like that. Once I am starting to recover it would happen all over again. It has been a never ending cycle of misery for everyone. 

I have slept well the last week or so and really feel like a totally different person. I attribute this feeling to a few things. First, I was sleeping through the night, duh. Second, I started the Autoimmune Protocol about 6 weeks ago and last, I went on a sugar detox with my RESTART class so I have not had any sugar for the last two weeks (only a green banana, half a grapefruit or a green apple for fruit each day). So I have been sleeping really good for the last week. I am so grateful. 

Since I was having issues with my sleep and I know lots of people with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s also have problems sleeping I thought I would dive in to the subject for you. 

Most people are not sleeping enough. That includes everyone, not just those of us with thyroid problems. The average amount a person sleeps per night has gone down around 2 hours from 50 years ago. 

Adequate sleep is imperative to avoid chronic illness. It is more important than your diet, exercise and stress. Sleep also helps you heal when you are sick. There are studies to show the role sleep plays in healing from breast cancer- you need to sleep when fighting such an illness. 

While you are sleeping, your body, including your brain, is detoxifying. While you sleep, your brain cells get smaller to increase the space between them so the toxins can easily be flushed in to the blood and filtered through the liver and kidneys. If you are not sleeping long enough or deep enough this waste can build up effecting your brain health and function. 

You might remember from science class the five stages of sleep that go in a cycle. We start at stage one when we first fall asleep and also when you can wake up really easily. You then move on the stage two which is a deeper sleep where your brainwaves slow down. Next you fall in to deep sleep with slower brain waves. Stage four is similar to stage three but has only slow brain waves. Stages three and four are the hardest to wake someone up in. Lastly, you have REM sleep and your brain waves get faster, almost as if you were awake. This is when you are dreaming. This cycle continues through the night. 

How do you ensure a good nights sleep?

Listen to your body. Your brain has a clock (circadian clock) which controls hormones in your body that tell you it’s time for you to go to bed. Those electronics and tv shows you have on while its dark out mess with those hormones that tell you it’s time to go to bed. It is time to get in tune to your body. 

How much sleep do you need if you have an autoimmune disease?

Probably more than you think. The average adult needs seven to nine hours per night. If you have an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s you may need nine or ten. I have been getting seven to eight hours and feeling pretty good although, too many days of that I am dragging. I have always needed at least 8 hours of sleep. With chronic illness, it is probably more like nine or ten. I don’t make for a good late night date. That’s for sure. 

How do you know if you are not getting enough sleep?

  • you need to set an alarm to get up in the morning
  • you may have to force yourself to get up after the alarm goes off
  • you sleep in on the weekends or when you get a chance
  • you get less than 7 hours of sleep a couple times per week.

If you are getting a half hour less each night than your body needs, it can affect your weight and your metabolism. 

Not getting enough sleep affects your cravings, insulin resistance, mood and your overall health.  It affects your ability to think clearly, remember things, make good decisions or any decisions, and eat more among other things. 

The biggest issue for Hashimoto’s sufferers is how lack of sleep screws up your immune system and can make things worse. That could mean your antibodies remain high or get higher rather than reducing when your diet and lifestyle are otherwise perfect. That is how important it is that you get to sleep. 

Your body also cannot repair itself like it needs to when you are not getting enough sleep. Tissue repair happens during sleep and your regulatory T cells (cells that help regulate your immune system and fight off autoimmune disease) can work on keeping you healthy. If you are not getting enough sleep, you don’t have enough of these cells to keep autoimmune disease in check. 

If you have an autoimmune disease, you need to make sleep a priority. 

  • Sleep in a dark, cool room (65 degrees is ideal)
  • Use a white noise machine
  • Get a alarm clock that wakes you with light
  • Try sleeping on your back with your head and knees supported
  • Wear blue blocking glasses when the sun goes down 
  • Re-evaluate how much time you spend on social media at night
  • Do something relaxing before bed rather than watch tv such as talking to someone at home, read a book, take a bath
  • Develop a nighttime routine made for rest and relaxation
  • Go to bed early and wake up early. This is ideal. 
  • If you are doing everything right and you still can’t sleep, you may want to re evaluate what you are doing.  

Take a look at your diet. Are you eating enough? Having low blood sugar in the middle of the night will play a role in your waking up and not being able to fall back asleep. 

How is the stress in your life? If you are like me, you are stressed out because you are not sleeping enough! Stress also screws with your immune system so it is imperative to manage it which is a whole other blog post. 

  • Are you exercising at all?  It will help you sleep better. Get out and go for a walk at the very least. 
  • Meditate. Listen to Episode 9 of my Real World Paleo Podcast to learn about how to meditate. 
  • Cut the caffeine out for a few weeks to see if that helps
  • Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of protein, fat and whole food carbohydrates by eating real whole foods and cut out the processed foods. 

I hope you are all sleeping well. Working with me, we can discover what you need to do to get the best nights sleep you can. Fill out the contact form on my website and I will contact you within a day or two about what we can do together. 

Sleep well. 

In Health, 

Stephanie