The joys of sleep
There is a lot being bandied about at the moment with regards to the importance of sleep. Books are being written, it’s being talked about in podcasts and on television, and we’re all being warned about the damning affects of ‘screen time’. Sleep is proven to improve brain power, boost your immune system and make you feel happier and healthier.
One of the reasons Rheum for Improvement has been so quiet the last few months, aside from my studies, is that I am not really getting much sleep. Therefore my enthusiasm, drive and focus has been diminished and with this poor sleep has then come a flare of my arthritis and another big dose of steroids, which always makes me an insomniac for a few weeks.
Until January I had got into a pretty good routine; if I was working nights I would sleep for about 6 hours in the day and then 8-9 hours during the night when I was off. I’m an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ kinda gal and have learnt after many years to get to sleep reasonably quickly, snore like a train and wake up in the morning feeling bright and happy.
It began to change when Larry the Labradoodle puppy arrived.
Larry came in to our lives by my fault (or decision, whichever way you want to look at it) for my husband’s birthday. At 8 weeks old we welcomed him into our home and he rapidly took over everything. I forget the number of times I woke with my head on the kitchen table in the middle of the night that first month - so much so that I even started leaving a pillow in the kitchen.
We wanted to house train him as soon as possible so this meant determination and commitment on our part, taking him out every 90 minutes - day and night - to hopefully do his business in our little yard. It worked and he was trained in 9 days but we were a tired, grumpy, non-functioning mess and with that, many things started to go down hill.
Firstly, I was not enjoying having Larry. Whether it was sleep deprivation that spurred this on I don’t know but I resented him for taking our freedom, didn’t enjoy his face and just didn’t like having him around. I tried to persevere but it made me so sad that I ended up breaking down and finally saying how I felt. It was like baby blues for the new-dog owner I think, and thankfully only lasted about one month.
Secondly, my arthritis began to flare. I was so out of sync with my sleep and routine that I upped my caffeine intake and have been craving sugar terribly - a classic combination to try and get a quick fix to fatigue that just doesn’t work. With broken sleep and work on top, my joints began to hurt, I was struggling to wean my steroids any lower and then the joints started swelling again. The result has been a knee aspiration, three steroid injections into my knee, elbow and ankle, and some really painful tendonitis. I have also had to double my steroids again to 30mg and start a new drug.
Could all that have been avoided if my sleep had not been compromised?
There is so much evidence out now from sleep studies all over the world about how the better we sleep, the better we function. I find it fascinating that even after losing just one or two hours of sleep you pose a greater risk on the roads. If you drive after not sleeping for 24 hours, slow reaction times make you a greater risk than someone driving over the legal alcohol limit. I do this too often and I am not proud of it, on the contrary it is pretty shameful.
Having woken up around 6am, I will rarely sleep before driving to start working at 10pm, work all night and then drive 35 miles down the motorway in morning traffic back to Liverpool, having been awake for 26 hours. It is legal, I need to get home from work, but it is risky and avoidable. To then go home and sleep 3 or 4 broken hours during daylight and do the same again for 3 nights has an accumulative effect physically and psychologically on everything I do.
Tiredness gets us in all different ways; my husband is a bit grumpy, eats sugary sweets and is quite quiet. I find decision making very difficult, tend not to make an effort with my appearance and feel a lot more emotionally fragile, both at home and at work.
St Emlyn's Emergency Medicine blog site wrote here about the importance of sleep for work and I encourage you to read it. We are not invincible, and making potentially life-changing decisions for our patients on 3 hours sleep in the last 24 is not good for anyone, particularly if mistakes are made. I’m sure you don’t want yourself or a family member treated by a tired doctor or nurse as much as we hate feeling that way too.
So, why have I written this telling you all about how bad I am at sleeping?
A quick google can tell you how you can sleep better, what we should all be doing to get to sleep, why it is good for us physically as well as emotionally, and so I don’t need to repeat all of that. At the bottom of this page are some really good resources that I've read and found helpful. I particularly recommend the top two.
I felt that as I write this at 5.30am in my parents’ living room, drinking a coffee, wrapped in a blanket with Larry at my feet after I just had to wake my parents up by throwing pegs at their bedroom window because I got locked out in the rain, it would be a bit more realistic to show my normal life than tell you all how how wonderful my sleeping is.
I did have a good sleeping pattern and now I don’t. I was feeling really well and healthy, and now I’m not. My diet was brilliant but now it has regressed as my willpower has diminished. I was full of energy and positivity but at the moment I feel a bit deflated and sad. I was on one medication and now I’m back on four.
A wedding gift from my parents, our bed is the most expensive piece of furniture that we own and we bought the best duvet, pillows and bed linen we could afford with wedding gift vouchers. It’s pretty insulting therefore to only spend about 1/8th of my day in it. When I return to Liverpool from my time away I am going to try and revert to my old and better habits so that I can concentrate more on my sleep and therefore get back to the happy and healthy person I felt I was a few months ago. If you’re in a similar boat to me, I encourage you to do the same so that we can all feel better coming into these longer days.
If you have a particular time when you know tiredness really gets you, or you’re not good at sleeping at all, comment below on things that you do to try and help yourself or what makes things worse and you need to avoid!
Until then, I’m off to get another coffee…