Herpes and a Good Night's Sleep

Patient Expert

As someone who frequently struggles with keeping herpes under control, I'm constantly looking for what triggers my outbreaks. I started to cut down on caffeine after an unusually painful situation involving a double cappuccino last year. (I have now decided to completely eliminate it from my diet, and am currently on day thirteen of no caffeine) I'm also trying to eat healthier, exercise more, and avoid sugar and alcohol (as much as possible) to make my body stronger and more capable of fighting the herpes virus. But I've noticed that no matter how well I follow these guidelines, a night or two of poor sleep can always trump their effectiveness and lead to an outbreak.

That's right, sleep, and the mind and body's need for it, is almost always an afterthought or a nuisance"a waste of time (as I sometimes feel). While our other basic needs - shelter, food, and sex - are celebrated (just look at America's obsession with the housing market, eating out, or the porn industry), sleep is certainly the unsung hero of our survival. In fact, in the industry I work in people brag about pulling fourteen-hour days and getting little to no sleep, while claiming to exist solely on caffeine and their love of the work. Times are changing - and so is my industry - and I'm determined to be successful, while working reasonable hours and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. With my persistent herpes, there's no way I could follow the old school path; getting a good night of sleep must be a priority in my life. (Lucky for me it's something I love to do!)

So to help us all keep our outbreaks at bay, I decided to compile a list of tips on getting good sleep:

Exercise regularly, even if it's just a walk. Try to do it in the morning or afternoon, since doing it in the evening or night could actually keep you awake more. I've started riding my bike to work (a 12-mile ride!) twice a week. I get a great workout, save money on transportation and gym membership, and feel more inclined to work out on days I'm not riding. It's truly a win-win...win situation!

  • Avoid caffeine later in the day as caffeine can have an effect on your body for up to several hours after drinking it. Good thing I gave it up!

Avoid alcohol and smoking soon before going to bed. We all know someone (or _is_someone) who believes that tossing back a nightcap or smoking tobacco or marijuana will help him/her sleep. Though it may help someone get to sleep faster, the sleep one gets is actually worse. So if you do any of the above activities, try to refrain at least a couple hours before getting some shuteye. Sleeping pills are the same in that though they may improve the quantity  of sleep one gets, they actually degrade the quality of sleep.

Keep your bedroom dark and quiet while sleeping. Use heavy blinds or eye masks to block out the early morning sun or a streetlight that may be interfering with a full night of sleep. Though some people like to fall asleep with the TV on, the flashing lights of a TV screen can lead to a bad night's rest and should be turned off before going to bed. Use earplugs to block out noises from outside your room, or put on soft music to mask the noise.

Use your bed for sleeping and sex only. Though it may be tempting to reconcile your bills or work from your laptop in bed, these types of activities create an environment in which it is harder to relax. Try doing anything work-related from your office or living room, and save your bed for comfort and pleasure. This is an area I could really use some work on. (Both, in that I should do less work in bed, and I should be getting more sex in the sack!) ;-)

Watch your diet and don't eat a lot of rich foods before bedtime (or at all, for that matter). However, having a light snack of food that is high in the amino acid tryptophan (like poultry, oats, whole grains, yogurt, salmon, potatoes, and bananas, among others), especially paired with carbohydrates, can improve one's sleep. Add some calcium to the mix (i.e. drink a glass of milk), which helps the brain process tryptophan, and you'll be dozing in no time.

Have a regular sleep schedule and adhere to it. Your body has a natural clock which regulates when you feel tired or alert. It is ideal to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends. This one feels impossible for me, but would be easier if I could get myself to go to bed earlier more often, thus reducing the need to sleep in on days off. Add that to my list of goals for this year!

There are many more ways to get better sleep and to fall asleep easier. Some tips may work for some people, but not others. Experiment and see what works best for you!