Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

"Wisdom comes through suffering. Trouble, with its memories of pain, drips in our hearts as we try to sleep." -Aeschylus, Agamemnon

My sleep hygiene is appalling. It's erratic and unhealthy and full of bad habits I've acquired over many years. Like my mother and several other relatives (on her side of the family), I'm definitely a "night owl." Honestly, I just do NOT like going to bed!

Lack of sleep is a trigger for my RA

For some reason, I feel more relaxed and motivated at night. Nighttime is "Me Time." Unfortunately, my body does not agree with my preference for nocturnal activities. Lack of sleep is a major trigger for my RA, and being sleep-deprived almost always causes some kind of painful flare-up in several of my joints.

Good sleep is crucial for a healthy and calm body and mind. I do know this intellectually and from personal experience. But... I still don't want to go to bed! And I find it impossibly hard to change my sleep habits.

However, recently I've begun to work on improving my sleep hygiene with the help of my therapist. It's pretty amazing how much sleep affects everything: a person's mood, energy, physical health, motivation, work, relationships, social life, family obligations, and the list goes on. Yet so many of us, myself included, take the importance of sleep for granted. I want to finally change this in my life and to prioritize getting regular, restorative, healthy sleep. And I want to do whatever I can to improve my RA symptoms.

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Falling asleep in places other than my bed

Embarrassingly, the main bad sleep habit I have is that I often fall asleep somewhere other than my bed first — like on the living room couch, on the basement couch, and lately, I've been falling asleep almost all night out in the 3-season porch while watching TV.

Ah, let's see... what else do I do? Well, when I do fall asleep in my bed, it's usually while watching something on my laptop or on my phone. I also often fall asleep with a bunch of junk in my bed: books, pens, folders, binders, knitting needles (for real), balls of yarn, notebooks, and who knows what else.

Right now my bed often doubles as my "office," which may explain the odd objects. Most nights I just suddenly get really tired and sleepy and pass out before I can get ready for bed properly. I also usually fall asleep with my bedside lamp on, which means that I'll then wake up in the middle of the night to turn it off. All of these things combined with not having a set bedtime or sleep routine contribute to poor sleep.

Getting better sleep, even with RA

So what can people do to improve their sleep? Some of the tips I've learned include the following:

  1. Keep a sleep schedule: Develop and follow a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, and avoid anything longer than a 10-minute nap during the day.
  2. Your bed is for sleeping: Do not use your bed in the daytime for things like watching TV, talking on the phone, or reading (uh-oh — guilty!).
  3. Avoid food and exercise triggers: Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, heavy meals, and exercise late in the day before going to sleep.
  4. Maintain the best sleep environment: When prepared to sleep, turn off the light, and keep the room quiet and the temperature relatively cool.
  5. Give it time: Give yourself half an hour to at most an hour to fall asleep.
  6. Do not catastrophize!: Remind yourself that you need rest.

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Other tips and tricks include: NO electronic device usage before bed (put away the smartphone!), wearing a sleeping mask, using earplugs, or turning on a white noise machine if needed. There are also a lot of apps and podcasts to help people sleep, including those that use meditation, mindfulness, and other techniques.

I hope I can make these changes stick

So, what exactly am I going to do to try to change my poor sleep hygiene?

Going to bed at the same time every night, in my bed, is a major goal and priority. I'm also going to try to make my bedroom sleep-ready by cleaning up clutter, clearing off my bed, putting away electronic devices, and making my room comfortable, quiet, and cozy.

I've also decided that I should get back to reading a bit in bed before falling asleep. As a child, I used to read every night, enjoying my book while snuggled up under soft blankets and clean sheets, freshly showered and wearing my pajamas. I love reading, and reading in bed is one of my favorite things to do. It also quickly makes me sleepy, which is a great bonus.

I'm hopeful that I can make these changes and make them stick, because my painful, swollen body is in dire need of good sleep. And so is my constantly anxious, ruminating, stressed-out mind. It may be more fun to stay up late every night, but waking up refreshed and feeling fantastic from getting restful sleep wins out in the end, I think.

Sweet and peaceful dreams to you all!

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