Without sleep, it can all break down so quickly. After only a few restless nights, I start to come apart at the seams. The screaming bells in my ears make it impossible to hear myself think. My stress levels peak. The ear pressure builds, and the dizziness begins. Sleep is important. I just had never realized how important.
Sleep is so many things. It can be one of the great simple pleasures of life. It can be a frustrating nuisance that keeps us from our life’s work. It can be a blissful peace or a restless nightmare. Whatever sleep may be to you, there’s no question that it’s an absolutely necessary component of health.
Getting enough high-quality sleep is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal against Meniere’s disease. Get enough good sleep, and you’ll experience a powerful healing effect across all of your other treatment efforts. Get too little though, your health will crumble, and your symptoms will get worse and worse.
For a normal healthy adult, the effects of sleep deprivation are debilitating. For someone with Meniere’s disease, sleep deprivation can prevent all progress in your treatment. It’s important to understand that our body does not treat sleep like a bank. You can’t save up sleep and try to go for days without it. You also can’t “overdraft” without consequences, getting less sleep during the week, and expecting just to make it up on the weekends. To receive the benefits that sleep can provide for your health and recovery, you have to make an effort to get quality sleep as much as possible. If you don’t, you will end up paying the price, whether you realize it or not.
Chronic sleep deprivation affects almost every system in your body, directly or indirectly. In the short term, it will: depress your immune system, increase levels of inflammation throughout your body, decrease your ability to handle stress, increase your overall stress load, and reduce your cognitive abilities, alertness, and memory, even after just one night of poor sleep. In the long term, the effects of chronic sleep deprivation are even worse: high blood pressure, higher risk of heart attack and heart failure, higher risk of stroke, obesity, mental health issues such as anxiety disorders and depression, attention disorders such as ADD, a decrease in emotional intelligence, and an overall decrease in quality of life.
If I don’t get enough sleep for several days in a row, my health starts to break down, and my Meniere’s symptoms flare up big time. Sleep deprivation triggers a terrible cascade of negative consequences that can all be avoided by simply taking steps to improve the quality of your sleep. There are many great techniques that will all contribute towards getting you the best night sleep possible.
10 Ways to Get Better Sleep Starting Tonight:
1. Set your alarm for the perfect amount of sleep:
When we sleep, we pass through repeating 90-minute sleep cycles. Each cycle consists of a period of physically restorative deep sleep, psychologically restorative REM sleep, and a transition period of light sleep. If you find that you often feel tired when you wake up, after a full night sleep, try this simple trick. Set your alarm to wake you after 7.5 hours or 9 hours of sleep, instead of the “standard 8 hours”. This corresponds to five or six complete sleep cycles. If you wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle, you may be groggier than usual. This simple change prevents that.
2. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day:
Keeping regular sleep hours will help you to get consistently better sleep. If you are going to bed and waking up and different times every day, it can create a state similar to jet lag and prevent you from getting the deep restorative sleep you need to be able to heal.
3. Turn off all screens 90 minutes before bedtime:
Our bodies maintain an internal day/night cycle known as the circadian rhythm. During the day, sunlight triggers our bodies to secrete day time hormones. At night, in the absence of sunlight, our brains secrete a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin production signals to our bodies that it’s night time, and time to get ready to go to sleep.
Unfortunately, the bright blue light spectrum emitted from our various screens mimics sunlight and causes our brain to shut down melatonin production. Watching TV or reading on your iPad before sleep can make it harder to fall asleep as well as degrade the quality of your sleep. To avoid this, there are several options. The best option is also the simplest; turn off all backlit screens 90 minutes before bedtime. Read a book instead or spend time with loved ones. This is your best way to ensure a good night sleep.
If this is not an option, you have some additional choices as well. The first is to get a pair of glasses that block the blue light spectrum. You can find glasses like this (or clip on lenses if you wear glasses) for very cheap or opt for more expensive options like the famous Blublocker brand. The final option is to install an app on your mobile devices and computer that will dim the screen and apply a red tinted filter that turns off most of the blue light spectrum. (F.Lux for Computers) (Twilight for Andriod Devices)
4. Make your bedroom pitch black:
If you have a lot of ambient light coming into your bedroom from nightlights, cable boxes, alarm clocks, street lights outside, or anywhere else, it can disrupt the quality of your sleep. The best strategy is to make your room as dark as possible. The easiest and least expensive option is to purchase a sleep mask. If you find these uncomfortable, you can find blackout curtains at most department stores instead. Ideally you want your room to be pitch black. Make sure to cover all clocks, as well as all lights coming from the TV or cable box.
5. Keep your bedroom between 62 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit at night:
Studies have shown that we get the best sleep when the temperature in the room is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, much cooler than you would expect. The reason for this has to do with a bodily process called thermoregulation. In his book “Sleep Smarter”, Shawn Stevenson explains. “When it’s time for your body to rest, there is an automatic drop in your core body temperature to help initiate sleep. If the temperature in your environment stays too high, then it can be a bit of a physiological challenge for your body to get into the ideal state for restful sleep.” If the temperature is much warmer or cooler than the optimum range, it might impact your sleep. Wearing socks is always a good option if your feet get cold at this temperature. I personally keep the thermostat at 68 degrees at night with a ceiling fan on low.
6. Perform a mind dump:
When you are trying to fall asleep, so much of the mental chatter seems to stem from trying to juggle a list of things to remember. The best way to address this is to take a few minutes, immediately before going to sleep and write down everything on your mind. You will find that you can fall asleep afterward much more easily with your thoughts and ideas safely backed up in hardcopy.
7. & 8. Prevent distracting sounds:
The sound of your environment has a direct effect on your sleep. For a Meniere’s patient, this presents an interesting set of challenges. Under normal circumstances, it’s important to have a silent sleep environment. Even quiet noise can stir you awake and whether you remember it the next morning or not is irrelevant. It disrupts your sleep cycles and lowers your quality of sleep. The challenge here is that tinnitus is typically much louder and more noticeable in silence. There are several good ways to overcome this. You can either attempt to mask the noise of your tinnitus, drowning it out with relaxing background noise or use meditative techniques.
- 7. Sound Masking (This will only work if you have not lost your hearing): White noise and sound therapy machines are a great way to mask the sound of your tinnitus, as well as other disruptive sounds in your environment. My preferred method though is to use a Bluetooth speaker connected wirelessly to an app on my cellphone that has a wide variety of soothing sounds.
- 8. Tinnitus meditation for sleep (A variation of my tinnitus meditation): As you lay down to go to sleep, get comfortable, close your eyes, and take a couple of deep breaths into your diaphragm (lower abdomen). Consciously relax your whole body, starting with your feet, working your way up to your head. Focus your entire attention on the sound of your tinnitus. If you find your mind drifting, gently bring it back to the sound. Keep your mind focused on the sound and you will slowly find yourself drifting off to sleep. Most people try to ignore their tinnitus but can’t, and end up frustrated. But by consciously focusing on it, by using it as a tool for meditation, it loses its power over you.
9. Fall Asleep Fast with the Elevator Method:
The “Elevator Method” enables you to fall asleep incredibly quickly by combining physical muscle relaxation, breathing techniques and visualization. It is extremely effective and simple to perform.
The first step is to get completely comfortable. Take several deep breaths into your diaphragm. Consciously relax your entire body. Go completely limp like a rag doll. Next, focus on individual muscle groups, one at a time, relaxing each as much as possible. Let all the tension go as you work through your body. Start with your feet and your toes; let the muscles go completely limp. Move up to your legs and your butt, let all the tension go. Continue on to your stomach and your lower back, then your chest and upper back, your shoulders and your arms, your hands and your fingers, your neck and your throat, and finally, your head and your face.
Once your muscles are completely relaxed, clear your mind with five deep counting breaths. On each slow inhale hold your mind completely clear. As you exhale, count the breath in your mind. Repeat this until you count five breaths.
Now imagine the bed is inside an elevator, descending deep underground with the elevator doors still open. Imagine the elevator shaft is made of dirt, and as you descend down, imagine you can see the dirt walls appearing to move up as you sink deeper and deeper down the elevator shaft.
Try to feel this sense of sinking with your entire body. You may be surprised to find you actually feel like the bed is sinking down beneath you. Hold this in your imagination for as long as you can. Feel the bed sinking, down and down and down. Deeper and deeper down.
By this point, you should be on the verge of falling asleep or at the very least, deeply relaxed. This technique becomes more and more effective the more often you practice it. Your body will start to associate the routine with falling asleep.
Initially, it can help to have someone else guide you through this practice. The first time I guided my fiancee Megan through this method she was asleep before I finished. She had been tossing and turning for over an hour, unable to sleep. I hope it works for you as well as it has worked for us.
10. Brainwave Entrainment and Binaural Beats:
Binaural beats are special sounds that produce changes in your brain state and are incredibly effective at inducing sleep. It works like this: by listening to a single tone in one ear, say 500Hz and a slightly different tone in the other ear, say 504Hz, the difference of 4Hz happens to be the same frequency as Theta brain waves. Through a process called entrainment, your brain will start producing more Theta brainwaves simply by listening to the binaural beat through headphones (it won’t work otherwise). A Theta dominant brain state usually occurs during light sleep and deep meditation. You can find many different binaural beat apps, but I recommend Relax Melodies for IOS and Relax Melodies or Binality for Android.
UPDATE: I have recently launched the Meniere’s Symptom Relief Project, an album of Brainwave Entrainment audio specifically engineered to help various symptoms of Meniere’s disease, including three tracks to help you fall asleep quickly. It is now available with Pay-What-You-Want Pricing!
Sleep is the glue that will hold your health together. It has the power to turbocharge your success or sabotage your efforts. It’s hard to imagine that just getting better sleep could be such a powerful tool against your Meniere’s disease symptoms. But it’s usually the little things, the obvious things, which we tend to overlook first. The importance of sleep in your treatment and recovery can never be taken lightly. Sweet Dreams…