Getting a good night’s sleep is challenging when you have epilepsy. You’re exhausted already, and medications can wreak havoc on your body, causing side effects like sleeplessness, night sweats, anxiety, and seizures.
Are there natural strategies you can employ to get the rest your body needs?
Yes! Our research team has combed through different studies to give you the following seven tips to improve your quality of sleep. We’ll also discuss what to avoid before bed and how to get back to sleep if you wake in the middle of the night,
Start by trying some of these tonight. Then add the others until you develop a consistent sleep repertoire. You might soon find yourself sleeping much better after several weeks – all without having to turn to medication.
Sleep strategies aren’t “one and done.” The key is to apply these tips consistently because that’s the secret sauce that’s going to help you to sleep better.
1. Create a bedtime routine
The human body craves routine. Just as most babies and children are happier and more predictable when parents stick to a schedule, the same is true for adults.
Consider a parent’s routine for toddlers: brush their teeth, take a bath, change into pajamas, chat a little, read a bedtime story, and turn off the light.
Similarly, you too should develop a regular pattern of what to do the hour or two before you go to sleep each night. For example, your routine might be: brush your teeth, take a shower, read in bed, turn off the light, then practice some relaxation techniques.
Doing the same things again and again conditions your body and brain to associate those activities with bedtime, and there is ample research to support the benefits of a bedtime routine.
2. Keep regular hours
Set up a time to go to bed every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Do it on weekends too or you’ll throw your circadian rhythm off all over again. Sleep research shows that trying to recover lost sleep on the weekends will not help you achieve the sleep regulation that your body craves.
However, if you consistently stick to a schedule, you’ll send signals to your brain tell it when it’s time to sleep and when to wake up.
Having regular sleep times not only improves the duration of sleep, but also contributes to a person’s overall well-being.
3. Darken the room
Avoid screens before bed, dim the lights, and make your room dark about an hour before you go to bed. Try not to look at your phone or watch TV before bed. Blue light is known to disrupt sleep and your circadian rhythm, which are directly impacted by darkness and light.
The hormone melatonin regulates your sleep and is produced when it’s pitch dark. People who use room-darkening curtains report a big difference in the ability to get to sleep and stay asleep in total darkness.
Also, rethink having a bright digital clock or digital device right next to you. Go without it or turn it away from you so that it’s not shining your face. It will also help you avoid looking at the time if you wake up, which often creates more stress that prevents a sound sleep.
4. Stay cool
Keeping the temperature cool in the house, especially before bedtime, is conducive to a better rest. When you sleep, your body temperature automatically drops, promoting a deeper sleep. Making your room cooler signals your body that it’s time for bed.
Some people with epilepsy are more prone to seizures when their body temperature rises, so lowering the temperature in your bedroom can also help prevent a seizure.
Others get night sweats, which disturb the quality of sleep. Again, being in a cooler room can alleviate some of these issues.
What temperature is considered cool?
This varies by person. Different sources suggest setting the thermostat between 65 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, but it really depends on what you’re used to. At least start by lowering the temperature, and you might notice a difference.
Bottom line, “thermal environment is one of the most important factors that can affect human sleep,” according to a the study, “Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm.” The research concluded that “excessively high or low ambient temperature” could impact sleep quality even in healthy people who don’t suffer from insomnia.
5. Declutter your bedroom
People with epilepsy often suffer from anxiety and nervousness to begin with. Clutter adds to the chaos and stress, which are major factors in insomnia, as numerous studies have shown. The Journal of Environmental Psychology and other research points to data that decluttering has a huge and direct impact on well-being.
Take steps to make your bedroom a peaceful place where you want to go to relax at the end of the day. Remove the distractions of mess, and keep the room clean and well dusted so there aren’t allergens that further contribute to disrupting your sleep.
6. Keep a sleep diary
Sometimes it’s best to look at data about yourself. Those suffering from insomnia are often asked to commit to keeping a simple sleep journal that includes when you went to bed, how long you slept, what quality of sleep you had, and more. Also take note of your food and drink intake during the day, major events that occur, medications you’ve taken, caffeine consumption, and exercise.
This might seem inconvenient, but over time, you might be able to find patterns that certain medications, foods, desserts or stressors lend themselves to sleeplessness nights.
Take your sleep journal to your medical provider, and ask for help in identifying behaviors and activities that can be adjusted to promote better sleep.
7. Exercise in the daytime
There’s plenty of evidence that exercise can help improve your quality of sleep, how long you sleep, and how much time you’re in a deep, restorative sleep state. Exercise intensely and do high-impact activities regularly in the daytime to lower your stress, and this too will help with sleeplessness.
Avoid intense exercise a few hours before bed to prevent stimulating your system and keeping you awake longer.
What Not to Do Before Bedtime
We’ve already discussed how digital devices disrupt the sleep cycle. Use common sense in avoiding other activities that you know will keep you awake.
Don’t use substances 4 hours before bed
One of the largest, long-term studies of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine usage among African Americans within four hours of bedtime showed that each of these factors led to disturbed sleep continuity and a decreased duration of sleep time. If you’re having trouble sleeping to begin with, say no to caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed.
Don’t nap in the late afternoon or evening
You had a terrible night of sleep and can hardly keep your eyes open by the mid-afternoon or early evening. It might be a tempting short-term solution to grab some shut-eye, but don’t succumb.
That late nap will only prevent your body from getting back on track. It will interfere with your sleep cycle, cause you to go to bed later, and throw off the duration of your natural night-time sleep. A study of 10,000 middle school and high school students pointed to the connection between late naps and sleep disturbances.
So drink some water, get up and walk around for five minutes. A little activity will help you stay awake, and you’ll be back on schedule to fall asleep at your regular bedtime.
You’ve woken up: How to get back to sleep
You’ve woken up to use the bathroom. Or a thought about tomorrow came into your head. Or you just suddenly woke for no reason. Try not to automatically stress about waking. Use these tips to help you fall asleep.
- Tell yourself you will go back to sleep easily.
- Gently dismiss worries about tomorrow and put them on the shelf until the morning.
- Remind yourself that you did your best today, and give yourself permission to sleep.
- Try some breathing exercises or visualize yourself going on a quiet, peaceful walk.
- Calmly began to relax your body, starting with your feet and moving toward your head. Tighten the muscles in your toes, and then relax them. Do the same with your ankles, calves, shins. Work your way up to relaxing your shoulders, neck, jaw, eyes, and forehead.
Still not working?
- Johns Hopkins recommends that if you’re not able to sleep after 20 minutes, you should leave the bed and do something relaxing, like read or listen to soft music.
- Cleveland Clinic cites that it’s ok to listen to music on your phone or watching a show passively. Though these are on your phone, these activities are not as harmful as engaging in texting, emailing or social media, which stimulate your brain. Still, a better option is to read a book and avoid screens.
- Don’t watch the clock. As you start keeping track of the time, you might become more anxious about the sleep you’re losing, and the stress will prevent you from falling asleep.
- Don’t start working on a project on your computer, as work-related activities can increase your level of stress. Work also signals the brain that you’re ready to engage in daytime activities, and you don’t want to initiate that pattern.
- Do engage in something that’s not exciting or stimulating in any way. Calming activities are the best.
When you start getting drowsy again, return to your bed. By doing this, you are reinforcing a message to your brain that the bed is for sleeping.
Having epilepsy can make it more difficult to sleep, but these seven strategies, especially when done in combination, should help you get a better rest. You know your body better than anyone, so think about what might work best for you.
If you continue to have sleep issues, speak to your doctor about your medications, share your sleep journal to find areas of improvement, and ask about alternative suggestions.