Hush RA, Don't Say A Word

Hush RA, Don't Say A Word

I was attempting to clean the other day, which means shuffling through mounds of piles of papers (they seem to sprout up in my life like weeds), and I found this little brochure thing titled, "Arianna Huffington's 8 Tips For A Better Sleep." I paused in the middle of my recycling frenzy and pulled it out to read it. I got it from one of the recent health-related conferences I attended, I think, and obviously decided at the time that I should hang onto it. I'm glad I did because I've been struggling with sleep issues over the last several months. Lack of good sleep hurts your body (and mind) in so many ways, and I know that it's certainly not good for someone who has RA. It's time I get my act together and start sleeping better and more, I've decided.

The "8 tips" from the brochure in my hand are from Arianna Huffington's book, "The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time." I haven't read the book, but now I'm becoming more intrigued by it. I do remember hearing about what prompted her foray into sleep advocacy: she collapsed at her desk from exhaustion one day, hitting her head and sustaining several fairly serious injuries. This is an extreme situation, of course, but there are several studies out there that show how detrimental lack of sleep can be for one's health. If you have an autoimmune disease, such as RA, I imagine the negative effects are even worse. Here's an interesting article from Harvard Medical School about the correlation between sleep and disease risk: "Consequences of Insufficient Sleep." If you read the article in-depth, it goes on to mention the link between lack of sleep and chronic illness, which is even more interesting.

Some tips for better sleep

But anyway! Sleep is obviously really important, right? So here are Arianna Huffington's "8 Tips for a Better Sleep":

  1. Set a cool room temperature
  2. No electronic devices starting 30 minutes before bedtime
  3. No caffeine after 2 p.m.
  4. Pajamas, nightdresses and even special t-shirts send a sleep-friendly message to your body. If you wear it to the gym, don't wear it to bed.
  5. Do some light stretching, deep breathing, yoga or meditation to help your body and your mind transition to sleep.
  6. When reading a book, make it a physical book or an e-reader that does not emit blue light.
  7. Ease yourself into sleep mode by drinking some caffeine-free tea.
  8. Before you turn off the lights, write a list of what you are grateful for.

Looking at this list of tips, there are five of them that I'm guilty of not following on a nightly basis: #2, #3, #5, #7, and #8. Yikes.

Another good tip for restful, quality sleep that is not mentioned, probably because it's a no-brainer, is to actually sleep in your bed. Wild idea, right? I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've gotten into the bad habit of falling asleep on the couch while watching T.V., and then I end up "sleeping" there, fitfully, all night long. I know it's a terrible habit that is seriously and negatively impacting my sleep and I've just started working hard to change it. Unfortunately, I think I've come to associate relaxation, unwinding, and comfort with zoning out in front of the television every night--which is why I keep doing it.

Revamping my sleep plan

My new sleep plan is to make myself go to bed when I start feeling tired and to relax with a book. I love reading and I actually do love my bed, so hopefully this won't be too much of a struggle. However, I do think that RA pain often has something to do with my preference for couch-sleeping. If I'm in pain, watching T.V. on the couch can be an effective, hypnotic type of distraction so that I don't notice my throbbing joints as much. Even so, I know I need to find a way to get back to sleeping in my bed on a regular basis. RA is extremely fatiguing as it is; I don't need anything else making me more tired.

Another impact of poor sleep in regard to my RA, I've found, is that whenever I don't get enough sleep my RA noticeably worsens. During my 20 years of having the disease, I can't pinpoint many RA triggers with certainty, but lack of sleep is definitely one. Fingers will swell and hurt, ankles and feet will be sore (or more sore) to walk on. My entire body just hurts and aches more when I don't get enough good sleep. What are my bad sleep habits doing to my RA and body long-term? I don't know, but I assume it's not good. Having less inflammation and a decrease in disease activity, and more energy and better health in general, is worth giving up my erratic "night owl" ways, I think. It will be hard to resist nodding off to a soothing episode of "Dateline" each night (yes, I'm weird), but I know I can do it.

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