Sleep deprivation is something that is all too common for most of us in today’s world with the inordinate amount of pressure and stress that we deal with on a day to day basis. But for those people who suffer from a chronic illness, lack of sleep can cause a lot of other issues. When someone’s body is fighting other things, it is that much more important for their body and mind to get the rest they need. Your cells need to rejuvenate, your brain needs time to rest, and your whole being basically screams at you that you need those 7-8 hours (at minimum) so you can get up and do it all over again the next day.
But there is a catch. There is usually a reason why people who suffer from a chronic illness have difficulty sleeping. It obviously depends on the type of illness so I will just briefly talk about my experiences with insomnia, sleep deprivation and how it has impacted my life.
Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) causes a tremendous amount of pain, nausea, vomiting, night sweats, and frequent (and urgent!) trips to the bathroom. When I was in a flare up, I threw sleep right out the window. If I was even lucky enough to fall asleep, I would be up within twenty minutes anyway running to the bathroom and then it would start all over again. And before you knew it, it was morning, and my body expected me to handle an entire day of excruciating pain, fatigue, loss of blood, etc without any rest. The length of a flare up depends greatly on the individual but they usually do not go away within days; they last for weeks, months, and people do experience times when they are in a perpetual flare up for a year or more. This takes its toll physically, emotionally, and socially.
For the first few years following my diagnosis, I barely slept but I was just so focused on doing what I needed to do to get my health under control (and by that I mean my digestive track) that I failed to notice what was happening with the rest of me. I was also in and out of the hospital constantly, undergoing countless procedures, tests, surgeries, etc and as I stated in this post here, hospitals are the last place anyone should expect to sleep.
The cumulative effect of everything that was going on, I believe, is what eventually led me to develop chronic daily migraines at the age of 16. I obviously have no proof of this other than it was around the time when things started becoming drastically worse for me. I think the fact that I could never handle the emotional components of my disease while going through so much physically caused a lot to build up in me as I illustrated in a post here Tackling Physical and Emotional Challenges; Pick One
I remember one day I woke up after sleeping for six hours and I felt like an entirely new person. It was unbelievable to me how much different the world would look if I was able to just fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed, or at least somewhat rested, more than once every four months.
So here I am today, almost 13 years after I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I still have awful insomnia and suffer from terrible sleep deprivation. This has played an enormous role in my life. I never fell asleep last night and was getting two hours the week before. I feel like my body is constantly playing catch up. I already have issues eating and drinking because of my disease and ostomy so layering on not sleeping wrecks havoc on my mind and body. It causes me a tremendous amount of anxiety that I think exacerbates my migraines which of course, makes it that much harder for me to relax. Vicious cycle.
Sleep deprivation is the real deal. It can cause a lot of issues and lead to other health related things that I won’t name but lets just say… you don’t want any of them! Most of the time lack of sleep isn’t something that is in our control but there are certain things we can all do to make sure we take as best possible care of ourselves as we can. I am going to really make a conscious effort to follow some of the things I wrote in this post back in October as well, Dealing with Insomnia.