The Lifesaver: ME/CFS/FM Patient Finds Simple Way to Get Sleep

The Lifesaver: ME/CFS/FM Patient Finds Simple Way to Get Sleep

Resource Type
Patient Story
Hand Warming For Better Sleep

This cheap and easy way to turn down her stress response and help her sleep was a life-saver for Darden and her ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. It's also been used with success in migraine.

Darden's Experience

Beginning in the 1980's I began to suffer from night sweats that interrupted my sleep and eventually resulted in severe insomnia. My night sweats began as chronic episodes lasting several hours, usually between 2:30 and 4:30 am, and progressed to ongoing regular occurrences that lasted most of the night.

I tried a number of "natural" remedies (acupuncture, magnesium, homeopathic remedies, Chinese herbs, valerian, melatonin, gaba, 5HTP and "natural" progesterone) and sleep drugs (Ambien, Trazodone, Doxepin, Neurontin, Klonopin), none of which gave me lasting help.

It got to the point where I was only sleeping about a half hour a night and I became suicidal I was so sleep deprived. By 1993 my health was in a crisis due to lack of sleep. In 1998 a biofeedback therapist taught me a simple skin temperature biofeedback skill called "Hand-Warming" which literally saved my life. This skill, which employs a feedback thermometer with a sensor taped to one's finger, is helpful in preventing migraine headaches. It counters a stress response in the body that blocks circulation to the extremities.

I purchased an inexpensive indoor-outdoor thermometer from Radio Shack and attached the "outdoor" sensor to my finger with First Aid tape. Practicing on my own for about a week I was able to master the skill of raising my temperature at will. When I experienced night sweats, this skill stopped the heat and allowed me to go back to sleep. Sometimes I had to repeat this skill 5-10 times a night, but I was sleeping! I have shared this skill with a number of friends who suffer from migraine headaches and they are able to prevent a migraine with this technique.

Darden taped an indoor-outdoor thermometer that's probably similar to this one on

Fight or Flight Stopper

Darden's wired and tiredness has caused her sleep problems for years. Too much activity and she couldn't go to sleep. Some studies suggest that this "wired and tired" or "fight and flight" problem - the sympathetic nervous system on steroids - could be behind many of the sleep issues in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM).

When the fight or flight or stress response system is engaged, decreased blood flow to the extremities results in reduced hand temperature. The blood not now going to the extremities moves inside where it's believed to increase blood pressure enough to touch off migraines in susceptible people. In fact, hand-warming has probably been used more in migraine in any other disease. The same technique used for the feet has also been helpful for people with peripheral neuropathy caused by circulation problems in diabetes and other diseases.

Because the "fight or flight" response also decreases blood flow to the gut, it reducing gut motility, causing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

Training Recommendations - Taken from Temperature Biofeedback Hand Warming Explanation
  1. Find a quiet environment. If the room you are in is cold, use a blanket.
  2. Attach the probe to the fleshy underside of the middle finger of your dominant hand.
  3. Always record temperature from the same place on your finger.
  4. Use scotch tape with perforations, or cloth medical tape, so that the finger perspires as little as possible.
  5. Do not adhere the tape too tight, or circulation will be inhibited.
  6. Avoid areas where fans, air conditioners, heaters, drafts and breezes are present.
  7. Avoid other contact with warm or cold objects such as drinks or outdoor exposure.
In a room with normal temperature, your finger temperature, unless you're quite stressed, is usually in the mild to high 80's; 80 F is considered cool, 75 F cold, and below 70 F very cold.

The goal is get your finger temperature to 95-96 F - the point at which a vascular relaxation response is believed to occur - for 5-10 minutes. That's a substantial increase, but Darden showed how she was able to quickly increase her finger temperature just by concentrating on it. The colder your hands are, the longer it will probably take to raise their temperature. The more you practice the better you will get at it.

Darden simply visualized or imagined her fingers getting hotter. That was all it took to shut off her stress response, stop her night sweats and allow her to return to sleep. Others use meditative techniques.

Using Meditative Techniques to Increase Your Finger Temperature

Finger temperature readings can also be used in conjunction with other meditative/mindfulness techniques. Try a technique and measure your finger temperature before and after it. If it works, do it at least once a day to shift you into a more relaxed state.

Some techniques include:
  • Deep Breathing - long slow inhalations followed by longer exhalations
  • Muscle Tensing - tensing and then relaxing the muscles from the feet to the head
  • Visualization - Visualizing yourself being in a peaceful, warm and calm place, such as lying on an imaginary beach.
  • Music - some people can increase their hand temperatures simply by listening to calming music.
  • Commanding Your Body To Relax (Autogenic Phrasing) - Telling yourself that you are relaxed, that your hands are becoming warm and heavy, that your muscles are loose and comfortable; e.g. I feel quite relaxed. My hands feel warm and heavy. This technique is reportedly very effective.
  • Open Focus - Imagine a portion of space in your body as in "imagine the space between your eyes", or that "your hands and fingers are filled with space"
  • Hand warming can be quite helpful in migraine.
  • Start to learn the hand-warming technique when you don't have a migraine.
  • Then, initiate it as soon as you feel a migraine coming on.
  • One migraineur used this technique successfully: My initial starting point is to get my breathing rate and heart rate under control. Let's say no more than 5 breaths a minute which drives down my heart rate, giving me a bit of a light headed (trance) feeling. I next start imagining nothing but black space and a camp fire. I imagine placing my hands with palms facing the fire and focus on the heat of the fire. This quickly warms the skin temperature of my hands, but I don't stop there as the article suggests. My next step to expedite getting rid of my migraine is taking the warmth of my hands and pulling it up my forearms, biceps, shoulders, neck, and finally my head. At the point where I have the heat flowing into my shoulders and neck, I can already feel the pain and tension subsiding. As my body temperature and brain temperature rises, it opens up blood vessels, allowing improved blood flow which ultimately solves the trigger event.
Foot Warming
  • Warming up your feet can also help you sleep. Clara finds that using a hot water bottle or putting her feet in a tub of hot, salt water before bed helps her to go to sleep.
  • If you're using a temperature gauge, put it on the first or second toes.
  • Focus primarily on relaxation and heaviness in the lower part of the body.
  • Try to maintain temperatures of 90-93 degrees in the feet.
More Inexpensive Ways to Possibly Get Better Sleep For FM and/or ME/CFS Patients (Let us know if you have others)
Darden's Biofeedback Experiences

Darden has found several different biofeedback techniques to be helpful. Find out more about those on her Fibrofriends blog.

Find more of Darden's Health Rising blogs here. Check out all of Darden's blogs over the years here.

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