Often, when undergoing treatment for Lyme disease, many of us go through a Herxheimer reaction which actually makes us feel worse. So not only do you have to deal with the common symptoms caused by the Borrelia bacteria, but you also have to deal with the after effects of killing off the bacteria and the endotoxins that have been secreted as a result of the process. This causes a worsening of the symptoms of the disease. Lyme disease, along with its coinfections, wreaks havoc on your body; it messes with your entire body and how it functions.
Get Plenty of Rest:
Those of us with Lyme disease often hear your doctors and friends tell us to get plenty of rest when we are not feeling well. And, we often reply, “It’s easier said than done.” Although we are often exhausted by bedtime, many of us experience horrible insomnia. It is so frustrating to be exhausted and want to sleep but not be able to. Insomnia refers to not only the inability to sleep but also not being able to sleep through the night. Insomnia often causes us to be unable to follow a regular sleep schedule. Additionally, insomnia is a common symptom of both low GABA and low serotonin.
Many of us have a very difficult time keeping a regular sleep schedule, and the time we go to bed is very important. This is because nighttime is when “cytokines” come into play. Cytokines are molecules that signal cells to produce immune responses in the body and stimulate the movement of cells towards areas of trauma, inflammation, and infection in the body. Cytokines play a major role in those with Lyme disease and are often the cause of all our symptoms. Sleep is very important in healing from Lyme disease.
In my battle with Lyme, I used to find it maddening, because I would want to sleep so badly, but it seemed that whenever I did sleep, it was only for a few hours, and then I would be awake for a large portion of the night when most were sleeping. Or, I would be exhausted and just lay there in bed, begging for sleep. There were some things that did end up helping me along the way, but I often made changes along the way due to the effects of the disease. The following are a few things that I found, used and which you may find helpful in your quest for sleep:
Valerian Root – Valerian extract increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, GABA acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and has sedative effects on the body. When GABA levels increase, it helps to reduce brain activity, which then allows you to fall asleep a bit easier. I used it in a tea with other herbs, and it helped me fall asleep easier.
Melatonin – Melatonin regulates the body’s circadian rhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle. The pineal gland in your brain produces this hormone. Studies show that blood melatonin levels are the highest before bedtime. However, supplemental melatonin may not help if the person taking it doesn’t have low melatonin levels. The effective doses vary quite a bit from individual to individual.
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) – 5-HTP is an amino acid that raises serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has calming effects on the body. Some even refer to it as the “happy hormone” or “happy chemical” which converts to melatonin at night. Tryptophan is the other amino acid that raises serotonin. 5-HTP was very helpful for me.
Chamomile Tea – Chamomile tea works on the brain in a way similar to that of benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are drugs that work on the central nervous system and increase GABA levels, thereby, reducing anxiety and promoting a sedative effect. Xanax, Lorazepam or Valium are some benzodiazepines. However, chamomile has a similar relaxing effect and can help you sleep without all the harmful side effects of benzodiazepines of which there are many. When I drank chamomile tea, it seemed to calm me and help me relax, and I liked its smooth, pleasant taste.
Ashwagandha – My doctor recommended Ashwagandha to increase my strength and energy, but I found that it also helped me to sleep. It was a very nice surprise! So, I did a little more reading on it and found that it has been used for centuries in “Ayurvedic medicine to increase strength and vigor, and to combat stress, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.” Ashwagandha was found in studies on rats to have comparable effects of Lorazepam, which I mentioned earlier.
Cannabis – During my research for my article, “Cannabis for Lyme Disease?: What You Should Know,” I ended up wanting to try it for myself. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it helped with my insomnia. The chemical cannabidiol (CBD) has a sedating effect on the body, which relieves anxiety, stress, and pain. (I struggled with this decision. I decided that it couldn’t be any worse than Lariam and its effects on me which I had taken previously.)
Cordyceps – Cordyceps is a mushroom that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Back in 2001, my doctor suggested that I take the Cordyceps at the beginning of my treatment regimen to strengthen my immune system, improve my energy and reduce my fatigue, but it also helped to sleep. The mushrooms work as an antioxidant and improve cellular function. It calms the nervous system, promotes restful sleep, reduces anxiety, and acts as a sedative.
If you are having trouble sleeping, there are supplements, herbs, and foods that can help you, in addition to changing your bedtime routine. Do some research, then the next time you visit your doctor, approach him/her with your findings and ask plenty of questions. Of course, not all of these will be helpful for you, but with your doctor’s assistance, you may be able to find something that will improve your shut-eye.
Before trying any of these suggestions mentioned here, ask your doctor if they are safe for you.
- Meltzer HY, et al. Effect of 5-hydroxytryptophan on serum cortisol levels in major affective disorders. II. Relation to suicide, psychosis, and depressive symptoms. Arch Gen Psychiatry, (1984 Feb). 41(4):379-87.