I’ve read over and over that one of the symptoms of Lyme Disease is insomnia. That hasn’t been the case with me, although if you’d asked me this between 2008 and a few months ago, I would have thought it was.
After coiling for separate tick borne illnesses, I’ve been able to parse out which infections cause which types of sleep problems for me.
- Lyme Disease: lots of sleep, too much sleep, like 12 hours a night plus daytime naps, feeling sleepy when I’m awake, wanting lots of naps, deep sleep that seems like it was narcotic-induced, waking up feeling like I could use a nap.
- Babesia: fatigue, feeling tired all the time, feeling like I need to lie down whenever I sit up, stand up or walk, low blood pressure with the fatigue, breathless fatigue, non-refreshing sleep, all day tired but not quite sleepy, narcotic-like naps, drenching sweats when napping or sleeping at night, disturbing and violent dreams.
- Bartonella: INSOMNIA, restlessness, inability to settle down, overwhelmed and overactive mind, tired but wakeful, irritability from not sleeping, inability to nap even though exhausted, light sweats when sleeping at night, long periods of wakefulness at night, overheating when sleeping at night or napping, long dreams about unsolvable problems.
I think you get the picture. Now when I talk to people with Lyme Disease who are having insomnia, I tell them to look into Bartonella.
Previous Experience with Insomnia
Meanwhile, I have my own set of plans that I implement when I can’t sleep. These come from the recent (past 6 years) bouts of insomnia, from a period of about 3-4 months in high school when I couldn’t sleep and from 3 months of not being able to sleep in my early 20s.
In high school I didn’t know why I couldn’t sleep. I did a lot of extra reading for school, usually after my family went to bed for the night. I did great that semester. I slept on the train to and from school. I had a whole host of other physical problems that semester, including loss of appetite and weight, and menstrual problems. I didn’t take any sleep medicines or drugs because I refused to acknowledge that I was struggling. (I think that it was a Bartonella flare due to other stressors in my life reducing my immune system functioning.)
In my early twenties, I was on an anxiety medication (to treat anxiety caused by the antidepressant I was taking, but that’s a tangent for another post) at too high a dose for too long. I realized that clonazepam was the source of my insomnia, but my psychiatrist was too nervous to help me come off it. (Who had the anxiety issue, really?) So I found a very dangerous but effective way to prevent anyone from prescribing it to me again. Plus, I got to sleep for quite a while as a result. (Overdosing caused temporary blindness and was way more dangerous than I knew at the time, but the internet didn’t have that kind of information just yet.)
The upshot of the clonazepam disaster is that I have a bias against taking drugs or herbs that are supposed to help me sleep. I have tried one thing this time around: a homeopathic remedy that doesn’t help a person fall asleep, but keeps a person asleep once they fall asleep on their own. I hated it. I felt groggy for several hours after I woke up on the few occasions I tried it.
There are two other reason I avoid pharmaceutical and herbal sleep aids. First, they add to the toxin load that my kidneys and liver have to process. Since I’m all about keeping the detox pathways clear and dedicated to cleaning up herxes, I avoid anything that adds work for my kidneys and liver. The second thing is that they interrupt the natural sleep pattern, making it harder to fall asleep once I decide to stop using them. In fact, it is much harder to monitor the frequency of insomnia when I take something for sleep because I can’t fall asleep without the drug/herb whether or not the Bartonella is active. So I deal with the insomnia when it comes and find ways to encourage my body to sleep.
Insomnia Dos and Don’ts
First is my list of things to avoid because they interrupt my brain’s ability to determine when I should sleep and my brain’s ability to make sleep happen.
- Sleep drugs and herbs.
Sugar is on the list because it causes spikes of insulin, one of the top level hormones that controls the rest of them. So insulin doesn’t by itself make us sleep or not sleep, but it sets in motion a cascade of other hormones that regulate sleep. Therefore I avoid sugar in part because it messes with sleep.
Then there is a more detailed list of things I do when I can’t sleep. Some of these things help me fall asleep. Some help me cope with the lack of sleep.
- I don’t worry or get preoccupied with how much sleep I get.
When I worry about whether I can fall asleep, I’m too busy worrying to actually sleep. This is true whether I worry in bed or during the day. I assume that my body has some mechanism to allow me to sleep as soon as my brain is ready. I just have to wait and eventually I will fall asleep again.
- I rest at night.
In other words, if I can’t sleep, I stay in bed and rest. I don’t get up to occupy myself, although I sometimes read in bed to get my eyes to tire out. It’s works best if I pick something boring to read. If that doesn’t work, I close my eyes anyway and rest. I intentionally put attention on relaxing my body and getting comfortable. Then I stay still and let the hours pass.
- I think about benign things.
If my mind won’t shut down, I put attention on things that don’t get me worked up. For example, one night I tried to remember the names of all the Harry Potter books. Once I figured out all seven and put them in order, I convinced myself it was time to sleep, and I slept. Other times, I’ll remember in detail a fun or funny event from my past. Or I’ll tell myself the story of a favorite book or movie. Or I’ll try to think of pirate jokes. The point is that each of these things can go on for as long as I need them to, but they are emotionally relaxing rather than energizing.
- I force myself to yawn.
This technique makes my body relax. Sometimes it even makes me relax enough to sleep. But if I don’t fall asleep, at least I’m not tense. I’ll pick a number between 5 and 15 and make myself yawn that many times. Usually after a few forced yawns, I find I can’t stop yawning until I’m pretty relaxed.
- I call a friend and ask for good news.
This worked better when I lived on the East Coast and could call friends in San Francisco. I would tell whomever I called that I couldn’t sleep and would prefer if they could tell me something nice from their day, a funny story about their cats or their work or whatever. After a few times, my friends knew that it would be a short conversation (5-10 minutes) that they enjoyed. Then if I couldn’t sleep when I hung up, I at least felt connected (not lonely) and had something benign to think about.
- I rest or nap during the day.
I firmly believe that the tick-borne infections mess up my hormones and get my adrenal glands to be active at the wrong times. Often a midday nap of 2-3 hours resets my hormones enough to slow me down and allow me to sleep the following night.
- I take it easy during the day.
I think my hormones get geared up for more activity than my body actually needs to do. When I push it I get both overtired and over-activated. So I take it slow during the day, no big physical tasks, no major exercise, no tackling big mental or emotional challenges. With luck, I convince my body that it is okay to rest and sleep by the time night comes along.
- I take a sea salt bath before bed.
This is one of my detox techniques which has the added benefit of relaxing my muscles. After 15-20 minutes in a hot tub, I feel sleepy. Sometimes I feel too sleepy to rinse off (but I do it anyway). Then, even if I don’t stay asleep the whole night, I get some sleep in the first part of the night.
- I rest on the BioMat.
The BioMat is an expensive proposition, but turned out to be a valuable investment. I put it on one of the low settings and it heats me up. It takes a while, but I usually fall asleep within 30-45 minutes of being on it. Often I don’t move to it until I’ve been lying awake for over 2 hours, so 30 minutes more seems reasonable.
- I cuddle up with my husband.
It is amazing what human contact can do. Sometimes it is subtle, like putting my hand on his back while he sleeps (and I lay there wide awake). Or he lays his hand on my forehead and dozes off, then I follow shortly after. (We call this the Vulcan death grip.) Or sometimes we actually cuddle and laugh and get off the day’s tension until I suddenly pass out. Prior to getting married, I found it helpful to ask my mother to come by and rub my shoulders or sit with me on the couch. Or I would ask a friend over and drop my legs in her lap as I stretched out on the couch. Human contact is soothing.
- I use the acupuncture sleep points.
While I was in NYC, my acupuncturist would put a needle in the sleep points behind my ears. Now, I sometimes use a sticker with a metal ball in it to stimulate the point. I do this during the day to sleep at night.
- I coil for Lyme.
Since I’ve discovered that Bartonella herxes give me insomnia and Lyme herxes makes me sleep a lot, I coil for Lyme to combat the Bartonella herxes. It only works for one night at a time, but I figure I might as well treat both illnesses to let them cancel out each others symptoms. For this to work, I need to coil my head and spine for Lyme.
I love this list. Unfortunately, I can’t always remember right away what to do when I’m lying there at night. After the second night of not sleeping, I can barely think straight. But I always come back to these 12 ideas. Now I can print them out and remember them more easily.