How Insomnia Affects Other Aspects of My Health (Part 1)
I feel like I’ve struggled to sleep my whole life. My history with a sleep disorder goes back to childhood and has looked different in various seasons of my life. As a chronic illness patient living with Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraines, each of my doctors know that I also experience insomnia.
Recently, I’ve had check-in appointments with each of my specialists – my gastroenterologist, my rheumatologist, and my neurologist. We are 15+ months into a global pandemic, and most of my healthcare has been via telehealth and video chat.
A common challenge to my chronic illnesses
I am grateful for this for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it prevents my having to spend 2 hours traveling, sitting in the car, and feeling alert and well enough to travel both to and from their office.
During this last round of virtual visits, I did a full system review with each provider. And what I found myself saying out loud was something I’d known subconsciously for a long time – my challenges with insomnia directly impact each of my illnesses.
Insomnia + GI
On the nights I struggle to sleep, or the weeks where sleep is hard to come by, my gastrointestinal symptoms increase pretty quickly. This often looks like waking up and rushing to the bathroom, experiencing a higher frequency and urgency to poop during the morning hours of the day, and an incredibly sensitive stomach for breakfast and sometimes even lunch.
When I’m exhausted and overtired, my level of nausea increases. I can’t tolerate my morning coffee, and I often have to spend at least part of my workday lying down. It’s so frustrating – especially in the middle of the night when I’m desperately staring at the clock and trying to will my eyes to stay closed.
Things I've found helpful in this scenario include some over-the-counter medications for abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and nausea, my heating pad, peppermint tea, and naps at any available time.
Insomnia + joints
The lasting effects of exhaustion combined with the physical effects of tossing and turning all night, trying to get into the most comfortable spot to finally fall asleep in – it wreaks havoc on my joints. Living with rheumatoid arthritis, my joints are apt to pain, swelling, and stiffness. Unfortunately, these symptoms all tend to increase when my insomnia is particularly troubling.
My heated blanket has been a really important part of my sleep environment for this reason alone. I actually hate being too hot and love a chilly bedroom, but my joints cannot handle it. At least when I'm struggling to sleep, I'm caring for my joints in ways that my body can thank me for in the morning, even when I'm really, really tired.
Insomnia + migraines
I think it goes without saying that insomnia makes all of my other systems struggle. Waking up several times during the night, or being awake for long periods of time, waking up early and being unable to fall back asleep, these things all increase the chances that I'll wake up with a headache or a migraine.
I haven't found a great way to prevent this, but I do know that when it happens, I usually need to cancel my morning and give in to medications and additional rest.
If you've experienced any of these correlations, I'd love to hear about them below.
How my other health issues impact my insomnia
And, in the second part of this article, I talk about how the reverse is also true – how my other health challenges also regularly impact my insomnia.
Have you ever felt so caught in this catch-22?
Does anyone else in your family have insomnia?