Here’s my remedy for Lyme-related insomnia
By Shona Curley
I have had Lyme disease since 2014. I am slowly recovering, and a few weeks ago I decided I could handle an experiment. I had been reading about autophagy, and how intermittent fasting can increase it. Autophagy is a natural, cellular process of detoxification and renewal – and it increases our stamina. Maybe it would help eliminate my afternoon fatigue?
For my experiment I finished dinner by 6 pm, had matcha tea blended with ghee for breakfast (sounds awful, but it was delicious), and waited till 11 am for lunch. Well, this backfired on me big time. My blood sugar plummeted, and Lyme insomnia came back with a vengeance.
I felt terrible for two weeks. This little relapse reminded me how debilitating and horrible Lyme insomnia is. Not only is it awful not to be able to sleep, but lack of sleep ruins the next day as well. I know you Lymies know what I mean! The lying awake while exhausted, the anxiety, the gruesome nightmares…what a mess.
I believe insomnia is one of the most crippling symptoms of Lyme disease. Once we start sleeping, we start healing. Sleep’s restorative power beats intermittent fasting any day. Lesson learned.
I used my background in experiential anatomy and meditation to put my sleep cycle back in order over the course of two weeks. Now I am back to sleeping my usual ten hours a night. When I sleep this much, day by day I feel better. I have made sleeping my priority, and I truly hope the following tools help you as well.
Restorative, restful meditation
You can use meditation at night to train your body and your brain to sleep again. Lyme disrupts this basic rhythm, and it takes work to train ourselves back into healthy sleep patterns. With this training, you will avoid the trap of worrying about not sleeping – lying awake, exhausted and anxious, further patterning stress into your nights.
The brain is habit-based. Whatever we practice enough eventually becomes habit and sticks. With this meditation practice, you will bring your nervous system slowly back to its natural home in deep relaxation and comfort. Here are my suggestions for repatterning beautiful sleep.
Create parameters for your sleep, and honor them whether you are actually sleeping or not! Go to bed at the same (early) time every night, and get up at the same time in the morning. Create ritual around going to bed, such as giving yourself an oil massage or a bath beforehand.
Make your bed beautiful, welcoming, cozy – a respite from the world. Use essential oils in a spray or diffuser to make your bedroom smell amazing. When you settle in each night, it should feel like exactly where you want to be, even if you are just there to rest and meditate. Set aside a solid ten hours to rest in bed, and let resting for ten hours be your only goal. You control this – you don’t control sleep – so let go of expectations or goals around actually sleeping.
Remind yourself that meditation has been proven to be just as restorative as sleep, when we get into a deeply relaxed state. As you lie in the dark, as comfortable as you can be, bring your attention to your breath. Feel your inhale, feel your exhale.
When you start thinking about something else (as you most assuredly will—such is the nature of the human mind), be kind to yourself. Simply withdraw your attention from the distracting thoughts, and gently return it to the feeling of your inhale and your exhale. Let your awareness drift through your body, bathing in your breath rhythm.
Feel your heart center. Feel your breath moving through your heart center. Bring the people or animals you love most into your mind, and let your love flow through your heart. Let your body release into the physical sensation of love, and of breath. This practice will restore you on many levels. You may drift off to sleep, and you may not. Either way, it is OK.
Just resting, feeling your breath, feeling your love – this is balm for the body and soul. You are bathing your brain in soothing chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin, and this stimulates the immune system to heal as well. (See the book “Molecules of Emotion”, by Candace B. Pert.) We may not be able to force sleep, but we can achieve meditative rest. This is something we control. Eventually, the practice of deep rest will lead to actually sleeping. It always has with me.
If you need help, try listening to guided meditations. You don’t have to take in all the words, just let them roll over you. You may fall asleep in the middle of listening, and that is terrific! Let listening remind your nervous system how to reset, and find restorative, peaceful rest. While I was struggling, I left my phone by my bed cued to a guided meditation, and whenever I needed help, I turned it on. (Editor’s note: We recommend having your phone in “airplane mode” to minimize EMF exposure.)
For me, a guiding voice works like magic, training my brain back to feelings of comfort and deep relaxation. After a week or so, I no longer needed the guide and could relax my mind and body by meditating. After two weeks, I was asleep all night.
When I get strong enough, perhaps I will revisit ghee and green tea. The benefits of autophagy still appeal to me! But if nothing else, Lyme teaches patience. For now, I’ll be focusing on dreamland, and wishing all you Lyme Warriors hours of meditative rest as well.
Shona Curley co-owns Hasti Pilates in San Francisco, which specializes in rehabilitation, conditioning, and pain management. A long-time meditator, she also created Red Kite Meditations, which offers healing meditations as digital downloads.