Posted tagged ‘Dark room’

Eye masks

July 20, 2015

Here’s how not to use eye masks: get one that’s too tight.  Yes, it stays on better, but then you end up at the optician’s complaining that you have hours of blurry vision every morning, due to the pressure on your eyes.  At least, I did, and I felt like a right noodle once I realised what was most likely causing it.  The offending eye mask was one by Muji which seems to have been withdrawn by now, and had strange double straps that were meant to go around your ears and didn’t.  Perhaps it was too small for everyone, since I’m a small woman and anything that’s tight on my head is unlikely to fit that many people.  Their current models look a lot more comfortable.

Eye masks are the sort of thing where there is a great deal on the market and you can usually find something to suit your taste.  In the past I’ve relied on blackout curtain linings instead, but I now have a partner who prefers to have some light coming through in order to wake him up in the morning, so this was the easiest solution.  My own preference is for cotton, soft and flexible, and I wanted something more substantial than the standard cheapie ones.

 Lewis Clark eye mask

After reading Amazon reviews and noting many complaints that dark coloured eye masks would bleed colour onto the bedding, I bought the Lewis Clark eye mask, which comes in a variety of colours.  It’s currently £13.99.  Years of early exposure to “girls must like pink” have caused my attitude towards pink to be ARGGH GET IT OFF ME, so I plumped for the turquoise, which is more of a soft sea green.  The bedding remains unharmed, and it’s a colour which I can spot when it’s fallen off and hidden in the covers somewhere.  The drawback with a lighter colour is that it isn’t a complete blackout mask.  They should look into a layer of dark fabric in the middle, as the inside is a lightish grey.  You don’t really notice unless the room is quite brightly lit, though.

After the business with the eye mask that was too tight, one of the most alluring features of this mask was that it has an adjustable strap.  It’s a good wide piece of elastic, too, unlike the narrow stringy things on cheaper eye masks that stretch out before long.  The mask still falls off my head every now and again, but I suppose nothing is perfect, and I’ve always managed to hunt it down again in the morning.  The cover is a soft plush, the inside is comfortable even for my ultra-fussy skin, it feels breathable rather than sweaty, and the sort of flap at the bottom does a reasonably good job of blocking out light that might seep in around your nose.

To be honest, if you want something that offers a complete black-out, you probably need the sort of rigid eye mask that looks like you’re wearing bulbous goggles.  I’ve had one of those and found it rather uncomfortable, although not as uncomfortable as my partner did when it collided with his face!  No one wants an eye mask that threatens to leave bruises if you happen to have a sleepy snuggle, after all.  So I reckon this is a good compromise between blacking out the light completely, comfort, and not leaving peculiar bluish stains on my bed linen.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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I’m still alive!

July 20, 2015

Well, it’s five years on, and I’m still using darkness therapy to keep to a 24 hour sleep pattern.  My sleep quality varies, as it always will for someone with ME/CFS, but being able to keep to a good bedtime is something I’m profoundly grateful for.  Chronic pain is a bigger part of my life these days, and for one reason or another I don’t have any pain medication I can use at night, so sometimes that’s a factor in my sleep problems.  I also turned out to be anaemic, something I only realised after developing Restless Leg Syndrome.  It’s always advisable for people with RLS to get their ferritin levels checked, and if their ferritin is below 75 (which is higher than the NHS reference range for preventing anaemia), to get it treated.  Thankfully the iron supplements cleared the RLS right up.

In other changes, I broke up with my former partner three years ago, and am about to celebrate my second anniversary with my lovely current partner.  He came with a ridiculous and adorable cat whom I am equally devoted to.  I could happily blether on about the pair of them for some time, but to stick to the subject of this site, this does affect my darkness therapy routine in a few ways.

First of all, he actually likes using coloured light in the evening, he finds it relaxing, so we have a variety of coloured bulbs scattered about our two flats.  I’ve been using incandescents so far, but have started to experiment with fluorescents and have a colour-changing LED bulb on the way.   That string of red LED lights  which I never knew what to do with has finally found a home, taped up under my kitchen cabinets with a timer on.  It’s easily enough light for coming into the kitchen at night to get a glass of water, and you could even wash up by it.  String lights seem to fare best when set out in a long row.  I had tried just bundling them together to give an impression of a single lamp, but it wasn’t much use, and having them out in a row as they’re meant to be somehow seems to give off far more light.  LED bulbs are so low-wattage that I don’t mind just leaving them on overnight every night, even when I’m not there.

Secondly, he’s quite fond of the dawn simulator for when he has to get up for work, and prefers to have a fair amount of light coming through the window to help him wake up.  So the blackout curtain linings are off, and I am using a sleep mask instead.  The curtains do look nicer with light shining through them, especially if you need to draw them in the daytime for privacy.

With regard to the cat, I need enough light around the place for when her ladyship decides that she wants to rush around as if her tail were on fire just when we’re settling into bed for the night.  She has dedicated spots where she likes to roll onto her back and knock seven bells out of a wrestling toy I wave around for her, but she can dash around anywhere, really.  The red lights in my kitchen aren’t quite enough, since she’s very fond of hiding under the dining table, and she’s a small black cat to boot.  I’m thinking about the options for lighting that part of the flat better at night without having to turn on the overhead white lights.  Also there’s a nightlight by the litter box in my partner’s flat now, as you really don’t want to step in that when blearily wobbling to the loo in the middle of the night.

LED lighting has come quite a long way since I was last blogging, and there are some amazing things I’m longing to try.  There’s more interest in ways of avoiding blue light in the evening too, although it rarely translates to popular products on the market.  I have various shiny new things to review, and a few more on the way.

What my sleep’s up to these days

February 26, 2010

The yellow bulbs in the hall are continuing to work well to light the bathroom, and the salt lamp is now confirmed for staying by the bed with a pink 15W pygmy bulb in it.  I should probably mention that there’s no reason why anyone should get a salt lamp, I just find them pretty myself, and they already filter out a certain amount of blue light (though not all) through being orangey.  It’s odd, the light looks deep pink if you put it on when the room is already lit, and more orange if you put it on when the room is dark.  It’s useful for when I want to sneak out of bed and get dressed when my partner’s still asleep, as it’s not bright or blue enough to wake him up, or as soft background lighting in the late evening.  Most useful of all, the cable has ended up positioned so that the switch is down the side of the bedside cabinet, about as easy to get to from the bed as is humanly possible, which saves fumbling around in the drawer to find the red bike light or similar. By the way, if you do decide that salt lamps are nice and go looking for one, ignore all the nonsensical health claims.  They’re just pretty lamps.

For some reason my sleep’s been a little odd over the last couple of weeks.  It may be because when my partner had a week off, our routines changed slightly.  I set the clock on the dawn simulator so that it would come on an hour later, as he said he wanted a bit of a lie-in but not to end up losing the whole morning.  I was often up and lightboxing before the dawn simulation as my wake-up time seems to be well-programmed, but it seemed to work well for him.  Then we went to bed an hour or so later than usual, which for me is strange as by now you generally can’t keep me up much past midnight however you try.  I’ve also been a lot more tired than usual during the afternoons and evenings, which I am now putting down to the ME/CFIDS having a minor flare.

Now that he’s back at work, I have been wrestling with the problem of my body’s sudden ardent desire to have siestas.  I’ve snapped back into my usual wake-up time with no trouble whatsoever, but I keep getting irresistibly sleepy later in the day.  I’ve tried fighting it for a few days, using the lightbox on a double stint in the morning and/or an extra session after lunch or early afternoon, and putting the little blue LED bulb into a clip-on light (which leaves it fully visible; at 1W it’s not so bright that you can’t look at it comfortably) and putting it by the bed or laptop from 9.30 am to 3 pm.  I’ve known that LED bulb to keep me quite wired at night if used up to 4.30 pm, but it didn’t do a thing for keeping me awake in the afternoons this time.  I wondered about adding a bit of 470nm blue light to my dawn simulation in the hope that it would get the message across to my circadian clock more effectively, and tried setting it for 15 min before and after the start of the dawn simulation.  When it actually came on, it turned out to be much brighter in a dark room than I’d expected, so I immediately turned it off.  I’d still be curious to try a blue or white LED dawn simulator one day.  The only blue one I know of was put together by this guy, and the only white one that’s meant to be any good (there are some cheap ‘n’ nasty things around) is the SRS320 by Morning Sunrise (Sunrise System), which not everyone likes as an overall unit.

I have now given in and realised that my body probably just wants more sleep by now, which can happen from time to time with ME.  I slept 16-20 hours a day the first year I was ill, not that I anticipate going back to that.  But someone on an ME forum did recently tell me that she feels best when she makes herself get about 11 hours’ sleep a day, which she guesses is due to her body’s increased need to do repair work during sleep, so I think trying some extra sleep is worthwhile.  I’m still aiming for my usual bedtime but am not too worried if we end up going to bed an hour later, though I’m occasionally lying awake for a little or waking up an hour before my alarm, something that’s less common for me these days.  The siestas are going OK, they range from 1-3 hours, though I suspect today may have been more like 4.  I originally tried sleeping with the curtains open and then went for closing them so that the room is pretty dark, in the spirit of having a proper sleep.  I think I’ll go back to leaving them open, I don’t want to end up messing up my sleeping pattern by getting my body to think that mid-afternoon is bedtime.  I’ve also gone back to herbal sleep aids at bedtime, since they never do me any harm, I just stopped them because at that point they were redundant.  I may as well get all the sleep I can if my body’s clamouring for it.

So far, my sleep at night is a little more broken as described above, but I no longer have the problem of having to torture myself to stay awake earlier in the day.  My overall energy levels are relatively low at the moment, so I think I made the right call on getting more sleep.  The only snag is that when I don’t remember to turn the phones off for my siesta I get woken several times (this is bringing back how awkward it is to sleep during the day), and when I do turn them off, I forget to turn them back on again!

Update

I’m definitely feeling better with more sleep, at least over the last few days.  I’m taking a fair bit of herbal stuff to knock myself out at night, last night it was one valerian formula, one 400mg valerian, and two 300mg passiflora/100mg chamomile capsules, but I’ve taken that sort of dose before and know that I’m absolutely fine with it, though I probably wouldn’t want to be relying on it long-term.  It’s far safer than temazepam in the short-term, though.  Last night it was mainly because I was concerned that my accidentally long siesta would mess up my treasured new sleep pattern and didn’t want to undo months of work. It took a little longer than my new norm to get to sleep (possibly – it’s really hard to tell), though far less than my old norm, and while I woke up at 7 am, I got back to sleep again.  Having a siesta has meant that I skip the stage of spending the afternoon trying to keep my eyes open, and while I’m still tired and ME-relapsy, I haven’t felt like a dead cat for a few days now.  It seems that I do indeed need this much sleep right now, even if my body has to be cajoled into getting it at the right times.

Light and darkness: an overview

January 26, 2010

Arguably the biggest factors in sleep pattern regulation are light and darkness.  Humans evolved outdoors, getting plenty of strong daylight during the day and complete darkness at night, and averaging 12 hours of each.  It’s this light/dark signal that keeps the body on a 24 hour schedule: people who are completely blind almost all have sleep disorders, as the natural body clock runs on a 25 hour schedule for some bizarre reason and they don’t have the light/dark signals to keep it at 24 hours.  Now we sleep indoors, we mostly work indoors where the lighting is nowhere near as strong as sunlight, many of us barely get any   sunlight (and those of us with ME, or housebound due to other medical conditions, may not get any), and instead of following the natural pattern of darkness, we are in darkness only for the time we sleep and that may not even be complete darkness, and we will be under artificial light right up until bedtime.  This chart shows the relative light level from various outdoor and indoor conditions.  Even a well-lit office is still only 10% as bright as an overcast sky, and nighttime road lighting is 50 times as bright as a night with a clear full moon.  Our light/dark signals are all mixed up, and this is showing in the  high prevalence today of not only sleep disorders, but medical conditions which are affected by light/dark.

The very basic version is that bright light stimulates serotonin, and a lack of it can cause low serotonin levels and thus depression, as well as daytime sleepiness.  The main antidepressants used today are SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and there is a form of depression which is directly caused by low light levels during the winter, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  Cortisol is another hormone affected by light levels.  Melatonin is the hormone which makes us feel sleepy, along with a host of other roles in the body, and melatonin is produced when we are in darkness, which should average out to 50% of our time over the year but is now nothing of the sort.  The healthy pattern is to start producing melatonin a few hours before going to bed.  By using artificial lighting until right up to bedtime, melatonin production is inhibited, thus ensuring that we are less likely to feel sleepy when we go to bed, and also that we get less melatonin overall than we should.  All the research I’ve read agrees that we need to have melatonin coursing through our bodies for a certain number of hours per day, and that getting insufficient melatonin impacts on various areas of health, such as the immune system, as well as sleep.

Sleep in total darkness and quiet

January 26, 2010

Make your sleeping environment as dark and quiet as you possibly can.  If you have tinnitus or are troubled by background noise, look into getting a white noise generator.  I was given this one on the NHS by my hearing therapist, and it was very useful when I was living in a noisy place and with a landlord who liked to play loud music at interesting hours, not to mention helpful when I was going through a spell of bad tinnitus.  It makes a variety of sounds as well as white noise, which is useful as it’s normal to find that some or most of the sounds annoy you, while there may be only one that you find soothing.  I personally liked the rain one.  It can also be plugged into a special pillow if you have a partner.

The rule for how dark your bedroom should be at night is that you should not be able to see your hand in front of your face.  I used to sleep with an eye mask on, but while my one was also good for dry eyes it was not a particularly friendly thing if you have a partner (he used to call me Bug Lady ,and would yelp if the bulbous shape of the eye mask hit him during sleepy cuddles), plus I decided that I wanted to try dawn simulation again.  There is some research suggesting that light is taken in by the skin as well as by the eyes, so some people think an eye mask won’t do if the room isn’t dark enough.  There are several views on the subject, though, and personally I wouldn’t worry about it.  If an eye mask suits you and doesn’t fall off during the night, then go for it, it’s a nice easy solution.

Once I stopped using the eye mask, I had to go to quite a lot of effort and a certain amount of expense to get the room as dark as possible.  There’s a borrowed light above the bedroom door which lets in light from the hall (which itself lets in light from the stairwell through a borrowed light above the front door), and I taped a piece of blackout fabric onto that shortly after I originally moved in years ago. The curtains are beige and glow nicely when the light comes through, even when I have my not-terribly-efficient blackout blind down, so I bought blackout curtain linings and they improved matters quite a lot.  Lots of light still came in around the sides and top, so I bought self-adhesive velcro and stuck one side to the window surround and stapled the other side to the blackout linings, thus blocking off the light at the sides.  I did spend a while still being woken by the small amount of dawn light coming over the top of the curtain rail, but this settled after a while.  I don’t know whether it was an adjustment period or whether it was because winter set in and it was still dark when my alarm went off.   I found that it took me a while to get used to not having the eye mask on any more, for some reason, but I now sleep absolutely fine without it.

All of this would have been considerably simpler if I did not have 10′ high ceilings, which meant that my original curtains had to be custom-made, the only affordable blackout blind available was a cheap and nasty thing from Ikea which was still a few inches too short, and I had to buy extra pieces of blackout fabric and sew extensions onto the blackout curtain linings.  If I ever have to start over with a similar type of flat, I think I’ll look into the cost of having shutters made instead.