Next in our CFS Symptoms Series is the unrefreshing sleep symptom PWCs (people with CFS) experience. If you have been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and if you are able to get 7 – 9 hours of solid sleep a night without medications, then you most likely do not have CFS. I am not saying that CFS people never sleep. We can have periods where we may sleep 12 hours but it is only after our bodies have been depleted from too many nights of poor sleep.
Hormones are our body’s master control system. A gland in the brain called the pineal gland makes melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your body’s circadian rhythm – your day/night cycles. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center:
The circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour time-keeping system that plays a critical role in determining when we fall asleep and when we wake up. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin while light suppresses its activity.
Many functions in the body are rhythmic. The adrenal gland makes most of its cortisol hormones during the day. If it makes too much at night, you will have trouble sleeping. Evidence has suggested that in PWCs the adrenal glands make too much cortisol at night and not enough during the day. Stress from an infection also causes the hypothalamus to direct the adrenals to make more cortisol.
This is why you will find that CFS patients tend to what I call “come alive” later in the evening. For me I start to feel productive and ready to go around 8:00 p.m. During the day I feel as though I am in a haze most of the time and I cannot think or function properly.
As I explained in yesterday’s article, even though PWCs are completely exhausted, sleep refuses to come and we are in this constant state of exhaustion and sleeplessness. Even though we can be bedridden for days, weeks or months, during that time we get very little quality sleep. It is also believed that PWCs are not getting into stage 3 and stage 4 sleep, which are the deeper stages of sleep. So even when we do sleep, we are not getting refreshing sleep.
The sleep deprivation we experience just further damages our bodies. Sleep deprivation can cause:
– Immune dysfunction that leads to multiple infections
– Decreased metabolism
– Decreased blood flow to the brain
– Thyroid hormones suppression
– Temperature regulation dysfunction
– Allodynia – a condition in which normally comfortable touch causes pain or discomfort
Emotionally the tolls of unrefreshing sleep are damaging. The last time I had a severe CFS flare where I was bedridden for months, I ended up in the emergency room after having a panic attack. This panic attack was caused by the day after day effects of little sleep. Emotionally I was just drained and a blubbering mess. After you have been without quality sleep for a while, your mind really starts to play tricks on you. It is as though I was on the outside looking in on someone else’s life. During these times I am unable to put together a coherent sentence, do a simple math problem, or even remember a phone number I had known for years.
The unrefreshing sleep causes us to be cranky, moody and I’m sure not a lot of fun to be around during those times. Patience levels are low and socializing is the last thing on our minds.
How has unrefreshing sleep affected your life? What have you done to improve your sleep quality?
Tomorrow our CFS Symptoms Series will continue with post-exertional malaise.