Quality Sleep is Hard with RA: Tips and Tricks
Last updated: September 2022
You never realize how difficult the act of sleep can be until it becomes an issue for you. For many people, sleep is a mindless and enjoyable act–something that they look forward to at the end of the day. After a healthy sleep, they wake up feeling refreshed and energized. Their bodies have had the opportunity to heal and repair. Sleep is a positive experience for them, as it should be.
My messy relationship with sleep
However, in comparison, many people have a complicated and messy relationship with sleep, including those with RA.1 Up to 70% of people with RA report issues with falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up tired, or excessive daytime sleepiness.2
Falling asleep and staying asleep could feel like a chore due to pain and discomfort. In addition, research shows that pain perception is altered with poor sleep quality meaning the brain’s threshold for pain is much lower.1 More pain leads to less sleep which leads to more pain and so on. What an incredibly frustrating cycle to be in when all your body wants to do is rest and can’t.
Tips that work for me
Everyone has their own tips and tricks to encourage quality sleep. This is what helps me!
Be proactive with treating pain
Pain seems to be most distracting at night because you aren’t as busy as during the day. If I feel aches and pains coming on, I know that if I wait too long to address it, I am wasting precious time to fall asleep comfortably. Sometimes getting ahead of pain and anticipating it with described pain medicine such as Tylenol is a proactive move especially before bedtime. I don’t hesitate to take something prescribed by my doctor that I know will help me get the sleep I need in the long run.
Wear wrist splints
During sleep, the wrists can be twisted and flexed in uncomfortable and unnatural ways without our realization. These unnatural positions can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness come morning time. In order to keep the wrist in neutral position at night, wrist guards or splints can be used to stabilize and allow the joints to rest.3 I particularly have issues with my wrists when I wake up and find splinting reduces pain and stiffness in the morning.
Use heat for comfort
Creating a comfy bed is an important step to encouraging a healthy sleep environment. For me, that means ensuring my bed is warm and soothing. I invested in a heated mattress pad and heated blanket that acts like one big heating pad to help soothe my aching body and joints. Heat is beneficial to:4
- Increasing blood flow to muscles and surrounding tissues
- Warm up the joint to reduce stiffness
If having a warm and cozy sleeping space isn’t for you, consider taking a hot shower or bath before bed.
Use ice for pain
Although heat is a wonderful tool to create a cozy sleeping environment, to reduce active inflammation and pain it is better to use ice. Cold therapy has the following benefits:3
- Constraints blood flow to joints which reduces inflammation
- Reduces fluid collected in the joints causing swelling
- Slows the pain signals sent to the brain
It’s important to take breaks while icing and let your skin return to normal temperature and use a protective layer between the ice and skin such as a towel. Limiting the use of cold to 20 minutes or less a few times a day will protect your skin.
Hopefully, if you struggle with poor quality sleep due to RA a few of these tips will help you find your way to more restorative sleep that you deserve.
How do you encourage quality sleep living with RA? Is sleep something you struggle with? Share you experience below!
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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