Disclaimer: This is what works for me, but it might not work for you. Don’t feel you have to emulate me if this isn’t for you. My chronic fatigue isn’t too awful, so I can do things that others might not be able to. Don’t push yourself too hard. It’s not worth it, and taking care of yourself is far, far more important than punishing yourself for things that are out of your control.
I’m not very good at accepting my limitations; that’s nothing new. But I was speaking to my disability counsellor recently and one thing he said stuck in my mind. When we were going over government programs like the DSA and PIP he described their purpose as being to help advantage those who are disadvantaged so they can compete at the same level with everyone else. I have always focused on how I am limited, but this idea made me think about all the ways I can make my position more advantageous, and I can tell you that this concept has been life-changing.
It takes me far more time to complete simple tasks than most people, due to brain fog, fatigue and pain among other things, so lately I’ve been focusing on finding more time; squeezing more hours out of my day, cutting down the time I spend sleeping to make myself more productive. Now, doing this to improve the life of an individual with chronic fatigue might seem contradictory, but it is necessary. Of course, yes, I will always need to sleep more than most to function at an acceptable level, but there gets a certain point where sleeping more is not helpful. I will never feel refreshed from sleep; that’s just a fact. So why allow myself to sleep for ten or twelve hours instead of six or seven when it’s not even going to make me feel any better?
When you have chronic fatigue, it’s important to pay attention to the times in the day when you feel most mentally active and capable. When are they? How can you boost and extend these times as much as possible? For me, one of these times is early in the morning. Because of this, waking up early has ignited my productivity. Here’s how I do it.
- Go to bed early. Obviously, this should go without saying – (Daya, this is for you!). If you want to wake up earlier, you have to go to sleep earlier. I’m sleeping from ten or half ten to about four-thirty, and getting between six and seven hours of sleep. It’s best, I’ve found, to change your sleep cycle by steady increments rather than all at once, otherwise you’ll just end up feeling jet-lagged (without the holiday, too!).
- When your alarm goes off, don’t stay in bed, or you will go straight back to sleep.
- That said, don’t feel you have to jump out of bed and be super active immediately. It’s hard waking up early, especially with heavy brain fog and concentration issues. Get out of bed and sit down in a chair. Read quietly for half an hour. Wake up slowly.
- Have a plan for exactly what you’re going to do once you’ve woken up. Anything is possible at four in the morning. Want to get fit, or learn to meditate? Do it while the sun’s still coming up. Pet your cat and breathe in the day. Decide what you want to accomplish the night before and you’ll be far more likely to succeed. If you’ve got a plan for what you want to do when you wake up, set a time to it. Pin down the specifics. It’ll make things easier on yourself. For example, I think I’d be far less likely to successfully go out on an early morning jog if I’d chosen a set time, laid out my exercise clothes ready, visualised myself going out, planned my route, created a playlist than if I hadn’t done any of these things.
- Make it a routine. Stick to it, and it’ll become habit. Normally, I’m not a big fan of routines because I find them limiting. But routines make mornings so much easier! To be successful, keep them flexible, but not too flexible. And don’t beat yourself up if you slip up.
- Power nap in the afternoon. If you nap for too long, it’ll be limiting and you won’t be able to get up again. Set an alarm for about half an hour to forty minutes and you’ll feel refreshed (or as refreshed as you can with CFS/ME).