Having a painless good night’s sleep

If the princess Hans Christen Anderson created in The Princess and The Pea, told me she had tossed and turned all night and woke up feeling bruise, black and blue, I would suspect fibromyalgia not a pea under 20 mattresses.

If the princess Hans Christen Anderson created in The Princess and The Pea, told me she had tossed and turned all night and woke up feeling bruise, black and blue, I would suspect fibromyalgia not a pea under 20 mattresses.

About 15 per cent of the population suffer with the pain of fibromyalgia.

Many of these are women who work hard, aim for perfection and sleep poorly.

Slowly over a period of weeks and sometimes months, pain creeps up on them.

Their brains become foggy as they are fatigued from poor sleep and living with pain advances. Eventually, they are told they have fibromyalgia.

Like many illnesses, no specific cause has been found for fibromyalgia. It appears to be a series of cascading events that trigger physical and mental challenges.

There may be a lingering viral or Candida infection and accompanying nutritional deficiencies. Often the full spectrum of fibromyalgia is brought on by a physical trauma such as a car accident or falling off a bike.

The physical trauma is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Because the fibromyalgia has several causes and results in manifold symptoms, a multi-factorial approach brings the most relief.

Such an approach includes dietary changes, exercise, deeper sleep, enhanced mind/body awareness, body therapies and herbal medicine.

Dietary changes are hard to make. Begin with simple changes.

For example, substitute an apple for the sugar fix in the mid-afternoon. Order a salad with chicken instead of hamburger and fries at lunch. Replace flavoured (highly sugared) yogurt with plain and add fresh fruit.

Many people with fibromyalgia find it very difficult to exercise, as the pain limits their movement.

Like dietary changes, begin slowly and be gentle with limitations.

Some recommend aerobic exercise for fibromyalgia for short periods three times a week. I also recommend yoga, Ti chi and a walk around the block in the evening.

There are many ways to improve sleep. The easiest is to take a calcium supplement before bed.

Calcium relaxes muscles, helping the body unwind. Melatonin taken with the calcium will calm the mind. Together they enhance sleep.

For those that wake through the night, a bedside herbal remedy for sleep which includes hops (Humulus lupus) and valarian (Valarianna officinalis) will ease one back to sleep.

Good sleep hygiene includes taking the TV and clutter out of the bedroom, sleeping in the dark and going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning.

Many people have found relief by changing their relationship to the pain. Meditation and creative visualizations can be used to develop distance from the pain.

This in turn decreases the sense of being overwhelmed by the pain and gives room to breathe a little deeper.

Deeper breathing results in a calmer mind/body experience. In The Full Catastrophe of Life: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Jon Kabat-Zinn documents his experience of using meditation to help others manage chronic pain at the Massatcheush Medical Centre. I highly recommend this book.

Therapies that involve lying on hands, such as Cranio-sacral can bring relief from the pain as well as release emotional tensions associated with chronic illness.

These types of therapies are often important in the initial stages of finding wellness, as they are wonderful tools to relax muscles.

In herbal medicine, the protocol often occurs in stages: gentle cleansing, increase relaxation and help with recovery from long term stress. Herbs like yellow doc (Rumex Crispus), red clover (Trifolium pretense) and burdock root (Articum lappa) will help move toxins from the body without stressing the body further.

Herbs that relieve the chronic gnawing of the pain on the mind are used simultaneously; these include sculcap (Scutellaria latrafolia) and green oat seeds (Avena sativa).

Herbs that relax muscles are essential, cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) are two frequently used. Then there are the adaptogens which I like to say, gives life space. These include rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) and Ashawanghda (Withania somnifera). Adaptogens will build the body’s resistance to stress. A topical salve of cayenne (Capsicum minimum) is important for symptomatic pain relief.

The knots of fibromyalgia take time to tighten, and unravelling them also requires time, but with patience it can be done.

One morning, I am sure, the princess woke to the sun shining, stretched and felt refresh from a deep nights sleep.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at abrah@shaw.ca.