Is There Help For My Sleep When I Have Rheumatoid Arthritis And Chronic Insomnia?
In my last article, I described some of the challenges I’ve encountered over the decades-long struggle I’ve had with getting a good night’s sleep. I’ve believed people who have told me that I need to just relax my mind more, perhaps meditate. I’ve wondered if sleep apnea is my problem since that is what every sleep expert first asks me about. And, finally, I’ve discovered that it’s never that simple.
Rheumatoid arthritis complicates sleep
Living with rheumatoid arthritis complicates sleep. Many of us deal with alpha-intrusion syndrome, which basically means that we rarely get deep sleep. Not getting enough deep sleep leads to increased pain among other things and, guess what, increased pain impairs sleep quality.
This negative feedback loop is the type to drive even the strongest among us, to the brink. As I said in my last article, sleep deprivation is a form of torture for a reason.
Creating a toolbox for chronic insomnia
What is one to do with this information? For me, when I have a complicated problem to handle, I always try to give myself options. The huge problem of my chronic pain led me to build a pain “tool-box,” which is an actual a box that I put things for my bad pain days. It’s a pink, polka dot box on purpose because just looking at it makes me smile. Maybe it’s time to create an insomnia tool-box.
9 ways that I manage chronic insomnia
My insomnia tool-box is going to look include the things that have helped me the most and is going to include these things:
My Nano pod, which has one song looped on it. The song is actually a relaxing sound that stimulates delta brain waves, the same brain waves that predominate during deep sleep. I discovered this about fifteen years ago, and it changed my sleep so dramatically that I’ve used it ever since.
My sleep supplements.Herbal supplements can help sleep quality and, over the years, there are many that have helped me. Just like medication, I have to rotate them often as my body starts to get used to them and they stop being as effective. But, since there are many herbs that function as nervines, herbs that help the nervous system, I have many options, and adding them to my sleep regimen has done nothing but help.
Marijuana, which has been the biggest help to my sleep by far. I live in Colorado and, when I moved here, I had a concerned friend give me some marijuana to help my sleep and pain. For the first time in my memory, I could fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Marijuana has helped me navigate through intensely painful surgeries, and even today, after using it for the past seven years, it helps immensely. I haven’t experienced side effects, but unfortunately, its effectiveness has decreased a bit over the years and I do need to use more than I used to. I also have to pay out-of-pocket and the expense is something I need to factor into my budget.
My books. Books have always been my friend, and that is especially true at night. I get into bed, and I read to relax my mind and distract it from the pain. This is not something that is recommended by sleep experts, actually the opposite. But for me, distraction is necessary and, if I can think about the mystery book I’m reading instead of the pain I’m feeling, I’m already winning.
Essential oils. Lavender, rose, bergamot, chamomile; just like herbal supplements, there are many essential oils that help calm the nervous system. I always have a few options on hand and they last a long time, so the cost does even out over time.
My mattress, pillows, and heating pad. What I sleep on is important and, since I live in a mountain town, night time can be cold all year. The right mattress, pillows, can make the difference between whether I can sleep on both sides or whether I have to tough it out on one, whether I toss and turn all night, or whether I can stay in one place for a while. In short, they can increase or decrease my nighttime pain.
Pain medication. This is a new addition to my sleep arsenal, and hopefully not a long-term one. But for now, it is helping me to get the sleep I need.
Sleep hygiene. Here are two rheumatoidarthrits.net articles that talk about sleep hygiene, The Magic of Sleep Hygiene and Where it Fails for People With RA and Sleep Hygiene as a Defense Against RA Painsomnia, which are techniques to help your body get into a “sleep habit” basically training your body to relax for sleep. These techniques are simple but can be effective if used consistently.
My brain. As you can see from my list, it isn’t one-size-fits-all. It isn’t one size fits because when you live with chronic insomnia, you are always playing catch up. Every day I take stock of my pain levels, my stress levels, and what is required of me. With that information, I figure out what I’m going to do that night to help me sleep. Some of the substances I use can’t be combined safely with others so it is vitally important that I use my brain and advice from my doctors and health professionals who advise me. It’s my job to do the best I can to take care of myself and, ultimately, my choice of how I handle the issues I face.
My list is always changing and growing but I hope that at least one of my ideas will help you to live and sleep better. What’s on your list?!
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?