Experts agree that improving sleep is one of the most important elements of treating ME /CFS and Fibromyalgia. If our sleep improves, so they say, it’s likely that many of our other symptoms will improve as well.
So how do you go about improving your sleep?
That’s what you’ll learn by reading this article. I will focus on new, groundbreaking ways for improving sleep that have become available in this form only recently through the invention of smartphones.
First – Find out What’s Going On Once You’re Asleep
To best address sleep issues, you first want to find out as much as you can about what is actually happening in your bedroom once you’ve fallen asleep.
Your smartphone is ideal for that purpose. Answers to the following questions – which your smartphone can provide – will tell you volumes about the quality of sleep you’re getting.
- How often and at what times do you wake up during the night?
- How much of your sleep time do you spend in the desirable deep sleep state?
- How long do you usually sleep for?
- Do you snore, which is a risk factor for a treatable condition called sleep apnea?
As an added benefit, answers to these questions over time will tell you whether the strategies you try to improve your sleep actually work.
Simply place a smartphone with the Sleep as Android app installed next to you on your mattress when you go to sleep at night to get these questions answered.
The motion sensor of the phone picks up how much you move around at night, which the app translates into your deep sleep cycles and wake times. The phone’s microphone records your snoring as well as any sleep talk. By tracking when you activate and stop it, the app also records the length of your sleep.
Upon waking, you have the option to rate how well you slept and you can take notes that might help you sleep better.
If you want to get extra fancy, you can also learn whether your body is generally relaxed at night by measuring your heart rate with the Endomondo app and this smartphone-compatible heart rate monitor.
I gained the following valuable insights from my own mini-sleep study.
Edit after a reader comment:
Note that I conducted the sleep study at a time when I had already significantly improved my sleep compared to when I first got ill, because I had already been using the techniques in this article (and other techniques) for over a year.
- I sleep well for the first seven hours and much worse afterward. This insight prompted me to only sleep for seven hours at night and add two forty-five-minute or one ninety-minute naps throughout the day. I now feel more energized while sleeping less. Also, I feel much more centered and less frazzled when I wake up in the morning.
- I was able to collect solid data regarding which techniques actually improved my sleep. When I used the techniques that worked, I fall asleep faster, wake up less often, and feel more renewed in the morning.
What is the quality of your sleep? Find out with the help of your smartphone!
“You’re Very Tired”– The Voice That Makes You Fall Asleep
A crucial piece of improving my sleep has been listening to guided relaxation audios just before going to bed. The relaxation recordings that work best for me are the Soften and Flow Technique from the Gupta Amygdala Retraining Program and the free Melt Away Tension and Experience Peace Guided Meditation.
If you’re not already listening to guided meditation to better fall asleep at night, I urge you to give it a try. It cut down my falling asleep time from one to two hours to a normal ten to twenty minutes.
My smartphone has also improved my experience listening to guided relaxations in bed dramatically.
Before I owned a smartphone, I ran into the problem that the relaxation recording would bother my wife who was sleeping next to me. Wearing earphones to not bother my wife didn’t work either, because they were uncomfortable.
My smartphone, though, is small enough to fit underneath my pillow. By sleeping on my side with my smartphone underneath my pillow I can perfectly the calming voice while my wife hears nothing.
If you’re worried about radiation from your smartphone, rest assured that you can switch off your smartphone’s radiation by switching it into airplane mode. If you use the Sleep as Android app I mentioned earlier, this app can switch your phone into airplane mode automatically for you as you begin tracking your sleep.
One note of caution, I noticed that smartphones that are not as flat as my Samsung Galaxy S3 can be felt under the pillow and cause discomfort. As a solution, I recommend this ergonomic foam pillow from IKEA or this one from Amazon.com. The pillow is thick and stiff enough that you will no longer feel the phone underneath it. I had already begun to use the pillow before I owned a smartphone because it also benefits sleep in other ways.
Let Your Thoughts Out so Sleep Can Come In
Do you ever have the experience that you have just gone to bed and, all of a sudden, you remember this really important errand you need to do the next day? Having my smartphone next to me is useful because I can write my thoughts into the notepad app, forget about it, and sleep peacefully.
The Night Owl’s Night Vision
I learned from the sleep experiment that I sleep best when I sleep less than seven hours at a time. Hence, I decided to change my sleep schedule so that I go to bed a bit later than Erin, usually around midnight, and wake along with her at seven in the morning.
My smartphone’s built-in flashlight application comes in handy here. Using this app, the LED flash from the smartphone is turned into a normal LED flashlight which helps me to find my way to bed without waking Erin.
The Biggest Danger of Taking a Smart Phone to Bed with You—And What To Do About It
For the first half year after my friend Florian got his smartphone, he complained about bad sleep.
Why did his sleep suffer?
After going to bed, he would always grab his phone just to read one or two articles on the Internet. This short period of reading would usually turn into one or two hours of reading, which in turn was responsible for his inability to go to sleep.
Here’s how this story applies to you and me: Each time we sit or lie down for a break or want to listen to a meditation, it’s likely that we will also feel an urge to distract ourselves a bit before beginning our rest break.
This can be a problem because distracting ourselves doesn’t rest and renew us to the extent that meditation does. While a distraction might permit you to forget your symptoms for a short while, once your distraction loses its spell over you, your symptoms will come back more pronounced than before.
Real, deep, long-term well-being, on the other hand, will enter your life when you can get yourself to rest deeply. Whether it’s meditating, deep breathing, or listening to a guided relaxation, these are the things that will calm down your nervous system, infuse you with lasting positive emotions, and renew your sources of energy.
But how do you actually get yourself to choose deep rest over distracting, long-term well-being over short-term relief?
You need outside help which you can easily get from your smartphone and an app called Perfect App Protector. Once installed and set up, the app makes the choice for long-term happiness and energy for you. It blocks those devilish YouTube and Email apps that try to keep you from engaging in deep rest. You can still access the YouTube and Email apps at the times when you really need them and can be free from distraction when your body and mind need healing rest.
So what’s next? If you ever notice that you choose distraction over deep rest and thus short-term comfort over long-term happiness, revisit this blog post and set up the Perfect Applock in a way so that it can save you.
Note that the App was originally intended for a different purpose and that you’ll need to watch this video to learn how to set up and use it for our purpose:
A Budget-Friendly Phone
Did you know that you can get a perfectly adequate smartphone for less than $60? Read all about it here in my short smartphone buying guide.
There are more exciting ways to improve your health, happiness, and functionality with the help of a smartphone. In the next installments of this series, learn how to use a smartphone to:
- Help you to quickly adapt to what’s changed since you have ME / CFS
- Counteract reduced functionality
- Support you with exercising within your save limits
- Free yourself from feeling isolated and lonely
Please share your insights and questions in the comments section below.
Johannes Starke is a health coach for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia who has come a long way in recovering from the illness. He is the founder of the CFS Recovery Project, where he supports people with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia in regaining their health and happiness.