M.E., often known in layman’s terms in the U.S. as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, generally includes severe problems with sleep by definition. How can we disrupt the cycle of insomnia worsening M.E. which thus makes insomnia worse? I can tell you how I did it, which involved probably alienating some people, by avoiding the startle reaction at any time day or night, which would inevitably keep me from sleeping, sometimes for days after one startle. It was worth the frustrated looks people gave me to gain my life back, after going so much of my life without sleeping at all for ridiculously long stretches.
This advice is pertinent for anyone with insomnia associated with adrenal fatigue, low magnesium levels, and variable heart rates, all of which may affect people who don’t have ME as well. Usually, people with CFS become unable to function in the work and social realms, so have the opportunity to try my suggestions. I was diagnosed with ME/CFS years ago by my family doctor through ruling out other illnesses after a battery of tests. The worse my inability to sleep was, the more I stuttered, reversed letters, misread words, forgot things, and cried too easily. After devoting my life to getting sleep as my top priority by avoiding the startle reflex, not only are those things better, but I rarely go into the paralysis and debilitating weakness and swollen glands that plagued me for 12 years.
Many doctors consider adrenal burn-out to be a major cause of M.E., particularly with disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Keeping adrenalin and cortisol hormones on an even keel is inherently difficult with that disruption, which is indicated by tests, including one for DHEA levels. My levels showed very low when tested by a doctor, and she gave me medicine, which I eventually replaced with supplements, and finally stopped taking. I also took ashwaganda, licorice, and maca for adrenals, as well as transdermal magnesium.
It was impossible for me to use a phone other than in emergencies for years, as I couldn’t hold it because of the weakness, but other aspects are also difficult about being on call for someone with this devastating illness. You must be able to fully relax, and not wonder if a sudden noise or requirement to act is going to startle you and then require you to act. Turn off the ringer while you sleep, set your cell phone to vibrate if you must use it, and ask everyone not to call if possible, at any time.
Ask people to email rather than call or show up at the door, and teach yourself to wake up right before the alarm goes off, if you must get up at a certain time. If you can organize your life around not having to get up on a schedule, embrace that luxury fully. Not worrying if you are about to have to wake up soon, or be awakened from a nap should allow you to sink into sleep more easily.
A ringing phone, door bell, and alarm clock all cause the startle response, and obviously someone deliberately trying to scare you for fun, or tickle you should be prohibited. Don’t ride with drivers who tail gate, or who push the brake and gas pedal aggressively. Ask people to whistle or walk loudly so you aren’t surprised by them suddenly standing behind you. The sudden jump from one state to another creates intense muscle tightening, which is too much exercise with CFS, and can thus lead to weakness so powerful you can’t move, along with adrenaline outpouring that will keep you up like a pot of coffee, and a long-lasting fast heart rate that isn’t conducive to sleep. The sudden startles cause trembling, disorientation, dizziness, and then you are expected to take the correct action, leading to more stress.
I attribute my vast improvement with severe ME/CFS largely to this practice, and am glad for the patience of all the people in my life who allowed it to happen.