Sleep is an important part of keeping our bodies healthy. We often think of sleep as a total mind and body shutdown, but in reality, that’s not the case. Although our conscious mind switches off, sleep is actually a very active state for us. A lot of processing, strengthening, and restoration occurs while we sleep, although exactly how and why this process works the way it does is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Physically, our bodies use sleep to repair damaged muscle and tissue and support our immune system. Mentally, all the information we’ve picked up during the course of the day is sorted through and transferred to our long-term memory banks. Sleep is vitally important for patients fighting chronic diseases. One of the most prevalent chronic diseases out there is Lyme disease; so what role does sleep play in fighting Lyme?
When we talk about Lyme disease in its chronic form, we’re talking about the second stage of the disease’s lifespan. The first stage, acute Lyme, only lasts for a few weeks, and presents with the same symptoms as the common flu. Sleep doesn’t have much of a role to play during this stage, as the symptoms can in fact be quite mild. If Lyme disease is not caught or diagnosed correctly while in the acute manifestation, it can evolve, or devolve as the case may be, into the chronic form. This stage of the disease can come on many months after the initial tick bite, and will often last a lifetime if not treated. Unfortunately, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does not consider chronic Lyme a fully-fledged legitimate disorder, so many cases go undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed as some other condition.
Rest is an important part in the fight against any chronic disease.
The symptoms of chronic Lyme are caused by an interplay between infection and inflammation. The former derives from the primary Borrelia burgdorferi infection, while the latter is a result of an immune response overreacting to the seemingly omnipresent bacteria. Due to the immune system being under continued stress, constant fatigue is a primary symptom of chronic Lyme. This fatigue isn’t like a regular feeling of tiredness that everyone experiences after a busy day. It’s more like a weight, constantly pushing down on the patient, meaning everything they do requires huge effort, even simple movements that healthy people would take for granted. Worse still, sleep never fully alleviates it; many patients wake up from sleep with the same sense of fatigue.
Yet sleep is an important part of fighting back against Lyme disease. Without sufficient sleep, your body produces fewer cytokines. Cytokines are important proteins that regulate the body’s immune response and inflammation. They send cells to damaged or under-attack areas, and are a crucial link in the chain when it comes to recovering from infections or wounds. When we become ill, sometimes before we even consciously realize it, our body encourages us to get more sleep. When the body’s immune system is on high alert, it can boost serotonin levels, which encourages sleep and rest.
This all sounds good in theory, and the natural inclination toward an increase in sleep should help a patient fight back against a chronic Lyme infection. However, many Lyme disease patients report difficulty sleeping. This seemingly simple symptom can often be one of the most debilitating factors in the whole spectrum of issues a chronic Lyme patient may encounter. To understand exactly why that is, we must qualify chronic Lyme not primarily as an infection, but as an inflammation-based disorder. The infection symptoms can certainly be debilitating, especially if the bacteria make their way to the brain or spinal fluid (which results in neuroborreliosis). But the most immediate symptoms patients complain of originate through inflammation.
It’s vitally important for Lyme disease patients to restore proper sleep.
Sleep is necessary to tackle these inflammation-based issues, and yet, the very symptoms themselves prevent good-quality sleep. Many patients complain of joint or muscle aches, and often can’t find comfort at night due to the continued sense of pain. Others experience pins and needles in the extremities, which cause them to lie awake at night. Many Lyme patients suffer from depressive symptoms, too, which can lead to bouts of full-on insomnia. All this lost sleep adds up, weakening the body further and further. Eventually, patients find themselves operating on just a few hours of fitful sleep a night, which leaves their bodies no chance at fighting the infection and inflammation organically.
One of the first treatment objectives for a chronic Lyme patient is restoring proper sleep. This can be addressed in a number of ways; the first order of business is to determine what exactly is stopping the patient from sleeping. Our bodies instinctively know that healthy sleep is one of the first lines of defense against any kind of infection or attack. Giving that first line of natural defense back to patients is an important first step in battling chronic Lyme disease.