When you ask people, “What’s the biggest threat when spending outdoors?” not many will think of tick bites. However, the truth is that tick bites are more dangerous than you may think. They can carry the Borrelia bacterium causing you to contract Lyme disease.
Lyme disease has become more prevalent in many parts of North America and Europe. Ticks can now be found in all 50 US states. Many areas are considered high-risk because up to 60% of ticks in these regions carry infection.
My first contact with Lyme disease was through my sister, who contracted Lyme twice. Fortunately, in both cases, she recovered quite fast with the standard antibiotics treatment. However, I remember while she was sick, she was very tired but also had a lot of trouble sleeping — a double burden which is very common among people with Lyme disease.
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As the incidence of Lyme disease seems to increase a little with each passing year, it has become important to understand how Lyme disease is spread and what you can do to prevent contracting it. Also, in case you have been diagnosed with Lyme, you may find my tips on how to improve your sleep helpful. Enough restful sleep is vital to your recovery process.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection transmitted by the bite of a tick infected with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks typically get the bacterium by biting infected animals such as deer and mice.
A deer tick can often resemble a dog tick, almost to the point where an expert is needed to tell the difference. As with all ticks, it is also possible that the deer tick will come loose and look for a new host.
How do you contract Lyme disease?
In order to develop Lyme disease, an infected tick must bite you. The bacteria enter your skin through the bite and eventually enter your bloodstream. In most cases, a deer tick must be attached to your skin for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease.
The most common way to come into contact with chronic Lyme disease is to stay in the open forest, where deers are known to move freely. However, not going to the forest does not necessarily mean that you do not end up with chronic Lyme disease. It is also possible for ticks to bind to another host and eventually find their way into your home. This can happen in several ways.
Pets or other people my bring ticks into your house
Your pet or other people may be carrying the ticks into your house. That being said, keep in mind that there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease directly to their owners. Same with other people. While you cannot get infected from touching, kissing, or having sex with a person who has Lyme disease, a visitor to your house may unknowingly be carrying ticks into your home.
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Essentially, there is not any way to completely isolate yourself from the potential for contracting Lyme disease. The only possible method would be to refrain from any contact with another living thing, human being or animal. Even then, there is some small chance of infection by handling goods that were previously packaged by other human hands.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
The tricky thing about Lyme disease is that there is not a single example of a symptom that must be present in every case. Instead, there are a variety of factors, with any combination of the symptoms present. Another problem is that these symptoms are often very vague, and people do not always pay enough attention to them. However, here are some examples of the most common Lyme disease symptoms.
One characteristic of Lyme disease symptoms is that there is a chance of different types of Lyme disease symptoms making an appearance as the condition worsens. In the first stages of the disease, one fairly common occurrence with Lyme disease is the appearance of a red, irritated area at the point where the tick bite took place.
What is the “bull’s eye rash”?
Usually, this bump continues to grow in intensity and size for a few weeks into a rash, also known as “bull’s eye rash”. And then it begins to fade out. While this rash is an accurate indicator of Lyme disease because no other infection can cause this, it is also true that only about 35% of people with Lyme get it.
Another fairly common symptom is developing a fever accompanied by headaches for no apparent reason. The fever is often a low-grade type, just enough to make you feel tired.
There may also be some appearance of Lyme disease symptoms that are not unlike those of an impending flu. For example, muscle and joint aches may come and go during this time. One morning, you wake up having pain in your shoulder, the other day in your knee or ankle, and so on.
Also, going from being fairly energetic to feeling worn out continuously may indicate that you have Lyme disease. One of the more common symptoms is feeling fatigued, even after getting a good night’s rest. While everyone goes through a day or two feeling somewhat run-down, anyone that seems to have a constant state of fatigue lasting several days should check with a doctor and request a Lyme disease test.
What are the symptoms as Lyme disease progresses?
Later in the progression of the disease, there may be some more alarming Lyme disease symptoms materialize. For example, the individual may develop an unusual heart rhythm that may cause some anxiety. Numb spots on the face may come and go over weeks. There may be some temporary loss of motor control as well, such as the ability to grip with one hand. In some extreme cases, pain in the knees may develop that is very similar to arthritis.
If you suspect that you may be carrying around a case of Lyme disease, the smart thing to do is seek the care of a physician immediately. Your doctor will run a few quick tests to confirm if the bacteria is present or not. Doing so will help put your mind at ease, and also allow a series of treatments to commence that will help bring the condition under control.
The effects of Lyme disease on your sleep
Most people who have Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases feel constantly exhausted and fatigued. It’s a bit like having chronic flu. Even if you have been accurately diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, you still may struggle against severe fatigue. The reason is that your body is working hard to fight the infection and is often burdened by an accumulation of toxins.
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And enough good quality sleep is highly essential for the recovery process. Unfortunately, most people do not know that Lyme disease damages their mitochondria and that the repair only takes place in deep sleep. Sleep is, therefore, one of the most crucial factors in the treatment of Lyme disease.
A Vicious Cycle of an illness that causes fatigue AND insomnia
But here is the problem: Although being exhausted, most people with Lyme disease also complain about sleep problems. They have problems falling asleep but also staying asleep.
It seems a paradox, but you feel tired, and the only thing you want to do is sleep, but you can’t. Lyme disease can lead to severe insomnia and prevent you from getting the rest you so desperately need to get well. So you end up in a vicious cycle of an illness that causes fatigue on one end and prevents you from restful sleep at the other.
Most likely, this is related to the fact that Lyme disease can cause different levels or neuronal inflammation. And any inflammation of the brain can affect your sleep.
Why can Lyme disease hamper your sleep?
Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause neurological and psychological impairments. They specifically damage that part of your brain, which is responsible for putting you to sleep, also known as the sleep center. These damages can cause insomnia, unrestful sleep, a shifting of the circadian rhythm, sleep apnea, nightmares, narcolepsy and sleep paralysis, REM behavioral disorders, restless legs syndrome and paroxysmal nocturnal limb movements (involuntary limb spasms).
Even after falling asleep, your sleep may be disrupted as your sleep cycles can get affected. You may not be getting enough or any deep sleep, the so-called delta sleep. The lack of delta sleep hampers your immune function and makes it difficult to fight the disease.
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Whether or not Lyme disease enters the central nervous system, it is a systemic inflammatory infection, and this inflammation itself can cause sleep disorders. This creates an interaction effect; a patient becomes sleepless in an inflammatory state, and the inflammatory state itself causes sleep deprivation. For some patients, the more sleep deprivation they have, the more hyper-vigilant they become, leading to another vicious circle.
A healthy sleep routine is vital for your recovery
If you are being treated for Lyme disease and/or other tick-borne diseases and still have sleep disorders, the most critical step is to practice good sleep hygiene to make sure your body and brain are well prepared for sleep. Here are some things you can do:
- Keep your room completely dark as bright light can disturb sleep. Make sure there are no computer or clock lights in the room.
- Turn off all electronics and keep away from monitors an hour before bedtime. Try not to do too much during this time. You can read a light book or magazine, take a bath, meditate, or listen to relaxing music.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule: As your circadian rhythm is already disturbed by Lyme, it is crucial to try to set a proper schedule for your body. Maintain the same sleeping and waking times every day, including weekends.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and move to another place. If you are lying awake in bed, worrying about not being able to sleep, you will begin to associate your bed with fear. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and move to another quiet place like a couch or chair.
- Use your bed only for sleeping: working, texting, watching movies, or other activities in the bed signals to your brain that the bed is a place of activity and not relaxation. Stop doing things and use your bed only for sleeping.
- Cover the clock: If you stare at the clock and think, “Now I only have three hours left to sleep until I have to get up”, it will only increase your anxiety. Don’t look at the clock between bedtime and wake-up time.
- Eat a protein-based snack before bedtime: Lyme disease can affect adrenal glands and blood sugar levels. A drop in blood sugar can cause you to get up at night or cause nightmares. To keep your blood sugar constant, eat a small protein snack (e.g., a piece of cheese or a handful of nuts) before going to bed.
- Avoid stimulants: Caffeine and alcohol can affect your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Certain medications, such as prolonged-release antihistamines and ADD/ADHS medications, can also have a stimulating effect, so do not take them too late in the day.
- Keep a protocol: Keep an eye on how many hours you have slept each night. Over the course of a week, you will be able to see samples you can give us when making appointments so that we can best help you sleep a good night.
Ultimately, sleep is vital for your recovery from Lyme disease. So make sure to implement a healthy sleep routine.
How to prevent Lyme disease?
There is a lot of noise around “generation indoors” lately, and I think we all agree that spending time outdoors in nature is of paramount importance to your health. Therefore, not going out to prevent Lyme disease shouldn’t be an option. Here are a few tips to help you avoid Lyme disease and still enjoy the great outdoors.
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One of the smartest things to do with Lyme disease is to employ methods that help you to refrain from contracting the disease. Here are a few basic rules of thumb that come to mind when the topic is Lyme disease prevention.
Remember, Lyme disease is often carried by deer ticks, birds, and other forms of wildlife. The easiest way to contract Lyme disease is to be in a wooded area without proper protection. The first rule of Lyme disease prevention is to dress appropriately when camping or walking in the woods.
What to wear when being outdoors?
Make sure you wear a long-sleeved shirt, with the sleeves rolled down and the cuffs fastened. Also, make sure to wear long pants, and tuck your shirt into the pants. This will make it harder for a tick to find a nice warm spot on your skin to bite.
Another tip is to wear light-colored clothing. Deer ticks generally are darker in nature, so it is easier to spot one on a lighter background and dispose of the tick.
Your choice of shoes is also important for your walk in the woods. Always wear socks and footwear that is secure, rather than sandals or other open-toed options. Wearing boots that are close-fitting to the calves is a great idea if you want to avoid exposure to Lyme disease. Since the legs of your pants will fit over the boots, it makes it very hard for a tick to come in contact with your skin.
Some other ways to avoid Lyme disease
While in the woods, try to stay on paths and in clearings as much as possible. Ticks carrying Lyme disease often are found in the underbrush and in otherwise overgrown sections. Staying in relatively open territory helps to lessen the chances that a bite will occur.
Using insect repellant when being outside is also a basic form of Lyme disease prevention. While the repellant does not kill the ticks, it does tend to stop them from being attracted to your person. Just about any brand of the repellant will work just fine, from basic mosquito repellant to something stronger. Apply a thin layer to your face and neck, as well as to your hands. Also, a quick spray on your shirt, jeans, and shoes would not be out of order.
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It is important to note that Lyme disease prevention is necessary even if a walk in the woods is not forthcoming. Migratory birds can transmit the disease, and deer ticks can find their way onto household pets and back into the city. Keeping your property sprayed from time to time, as well as making sure your dog or cat is not playing host to a deer tick, will go a long way toward making your Lyme disease prevention program effective and successful.
How to deal with a Lyme disease diagnosis?
If you have recently received a Lyme disease diagnosis, it is important not to allow yourself to begin thinking the worst. Here are some things to keep in mind about a Lyme disease diagnosis and what your next move should be.
First, people do not always get Lyme disease because they are careless. In fact, you could have been infected with Lyme disease for several reasons. The important thing is that you have received a Lyme disease diagnosis and that you will soon be undergoing treatments that will help to correct the situation. For this reason, do not dwell on what you could have done differently; instead, focus on getting the treatment you need.
There is also a good chance that your condition is treatable with antibiotics
Next, understand that a Lyme disease diagnosis does not necessarily mean you are about to have a huge shift in your general state of health. If your Lyme disease diagnosis comes in the early stages of your condition, the chances are that you will not experience much more than the symptoms that led you to seek medical attention. There is also a good chance that your condition is treatable with antibiotics. More severe conditions like the so-called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome PTLDS are rather rare. Keep this in mind and don’t allow yourself to be troubled by horror stories. Focus on the facts and get the treatments you require.
Last, listen to your doctor. Once your condition is under control, talk with your doctor about possible ways you could have contracted the disease. For example, if you are in the habit of walking through the woods in a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts, you may want to wear more clothing. This will make you less susceptible to the deer ticks that often spread the disease. After consulting with your doctor, you can take steps to make some changes in how you do things so that the chances of a recurring bout of Lyme disease is minimized.
What you should know about Lyme disease treatment
When it comes to Lyme disease treatment, there are several different ways to deal with the condition, based on how far along the disease has progressed. Here are a couple of facts about Lyme disease treatment to consider.
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One of the most basic forms of Lyme disease treatment is the use of antibiotics. In fact, this form of treatment for Lyme disease is very effective when the condition is diagnosed in its early stages. Generally, the antibiotics will not only address the bacteria that are the root cause of the condition but also help to alleviate the symptoms that are often associated with the early stages of Lyme disease, such as headaches, fever, and outbreaks of rashes around the site of the bite.
When to be careful with using antibiotics
Care should be taken in the administration of antibiotics as Lyme disease treatment. It is all too possible that in some cases, the particular antibiotics may cause more harm to the overall health than good. This is especially true if the person with Lyme disease is pregnant. Taking care to use antibiotics that will not interfere with the pregnancy or interact with any prenatal medication is absolutely essential.
In addition to pregnancy, cardiovascular conditions should also be kept in mind when embarking on Lyme disease treatment. Since one of the possible symptoms of Lyme disease is a change in the natural rhythm of the heartbeat, it is important to make sure there is no permanent condition that may complicate the treatment. Once the presence or absence of heart disease is confirmed, it is easier for the physician to prescribe the right types of antibiotics.
While the use of antibiotics is the best type of Lyme disease treatment, care must be taken to administer the right kinds of antibiotics. By knowing the overall health condition of the person who has contracted Lyme disease, it is possible to prescribe the right antibiotics, effectively treating the disease without causing any additional physical harm.
How to find Lyme disease specialists
If you are interested in talking with qualified Lyme disease specialists, there are several ways you can obtain contact information. Here are some ideas to help you locate Lyme disease specialists in your community.
One of the best places to begin is by speaking with your primary care physician. The chances are that your family doctor will know of several Lyme disease specialists in the area. The advantage of this approach is that if your doctor feels comfortable passing on the names of several Lyme disease specialists, they must have a fairly competent standing in the local medical community. This means that they would be well worth speaking with about Lyme disease.
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Another approach to finding Lyme disease specialists is to check with the local medical association. Any medical professional that is in good standing with the local and state medical association would likely be a good resource to find answers to your questions about Lyme disease. Often, the information that is maintained in medical association records will include not only the addresses and phone numbers for local Lyme disease specialists, but also web sites as well.
One quick reference to check is the local phone book. Many Lyme disease specialists today take out ads in the yellow pages that indicate that treating Lyme disease is among their specialties. If you are looking for quick answers to questions, letting your fingers do the walking through the ads in the phone book may be just what you need.
What you can learn from the Lyme Disease Association
The Lyme Disease Association is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping people learn more about the disease, as well as promote the responsible treatment of the condition.
One of the most informative things you can learn from the Lyme Disease Association is how to prevent contracting the disease. The information provided by the association gets into such helpful areas as what types of wooded areas to avoid and how to dress when you go camping or plan on being in the woods for a while. You can also read about how to periodically check for the presence of ticks while you are enjoying the great outdoors. The simple and practical tips that are provided are easy to follow and can help make spending time outdoors a little safer.
The Lyme Disease Association provides helpful information on how to prevent contracting the disease
The articles that are found on the web site for the Lyme Disease Association also address some of the possible symptoms that are associated with the disease. Some people may be surprised to learn that various combinations of symptoms may be present with Lyme disease, so understanding the range of symptoms makes it a little easier to diagnose the condition and begin to administer proper treatment.
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Along with information on protecting yourself from getting Lyme disease and learning about the symptoms, the Lyme Disease Association is also an excellent resource for finding out the latest details about treatments for the condition. Often, there are features on the latest in new antibiotics that look promising in treating the disease, as well as suggestions on how to alleviate the discomfort of some of the symptoms. For anyone interested in learning the facts about Lyme disease, consulting the literature or the web site of the Lyme Disease Association is an excellent way to start.