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Sleeping Well: Wren’s 5 Ways

Sleeping Well: Wren’s 5 Ways

I’m writing this at 1:54 a.m. because, well, I can’t sleep. I figured I might as well use this unexpected and unwanted time productively. And while it might seem sort of ironic that an insomniac is offering advice on how to sleep better, it’s not like I don’t have some experience in the matter.

RA joint pain hinders our sleep

Let’s face it: sleeping is sometimes tough as nails for those of us who live with rheumatoid disease. Joint pain, which runs the gamut from mild-but-annoying to oh-man-just-shoot-me-now severe, can totally ruin a good night’s sleep. And then there’s the drugs we take to treat the disease and its symptoms. Many of them—I’m looking at you, Evil Prednisone—can interrupt and throw chaos into an otherwise peaceful sleep cycle.

So what can we do? I hate to say it, but sometimes, not much. Sometimes, like tonight, we just have to suck it up and make the best of it. My joint pain is fairly mild tonight, but I’m adjusting to an increase in my gabapentin dose. It’s helping the pain, which is nice, but as a drowsy-making sleep-aid, it sucks.

Patience, Wren. Breathe. Seek your joy, even if it is oh-dark-thirty.

5 ways to practice sleep hygiene

But hey, back to sleep hygiene. Practicing it helps, most of the time. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.

1. Set your sleep hours—and stick to them.

I get up and go to bed at roughly the same time every single day, day in and day out. I get up at 6:00 each morning and I crawl into bed at 10:00 each night. These hours aren’t set in stone: now and then I’ll sleep in a little or wake up earlier. But you get my drift.

The reason I’m so dedicated to these hours? Our bodies will follow a natural sleep and wake cycle—the circadian rhythm—if we let them. This rhythm wakes us with the sun if we’re not forcing ourselves into some other pattern. We feel almost relentlessly drowsy in the mid-day, between 1 and 3 p.m., because that natural rhythm is telling us to rest for a while. And once the sun sets and darkness falls, our bodies yearn for sleep. Why fight it?

2. Your sleep environment matters.

Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room. The bedroom is for sleeping only (except for sex). There’s no watching TV there. No using the computer or checking your phone. Leave them in the other room. You’re crawling into bed to sleep, not to keep your mind stimulated, occupied, and wide awake.

I know how hard this can be. But turning off, shutting down, and settling down into the cool, gentle quiet of the night is essential for a decent sleep. Sure, RD tosses a rude wrench into the works now and then, but this helps most of the time.

3. Stop eating and drinking by 7 p.m.

I’ve found that this is really important. Here’s why: Most of us eat our evening meal by 7 p.m. or so. For several hours afterward, our bodies are working to digest and absorb the meal. By bedtime, our bodies can relax and start the process of renewal.

Drinking stimulants, like coffee or tea with caffeine, can keep anyone wide awake. Avoid them. Shun them! And don’t drink anything else, either. No soda—even sugar-free and decaffeinated—and no water. Nada. The reason? Liquids in, liquids out. Stop drinking by 7 p.m. or resign yourself to waking up for at least one middle-of-the-night shuffle to the loo.

4. Put yourself to sleep with meditation.

I know, this sounds nuts, but it works! Try this: to quiet your mind, pay attention to your breath. Notice how it feels to breathe in and breathe out. You don’t have to take big, deep, slow breaths. Just breathe normally. Concentrate on how the air feels flowing into your nose, cool and good, and feel it inflate your lungs and raise your chest and tummy.

Notice how it feels when you breathe out. Do it again: inhale, exhale. As you focus on it, you’ll naturally start to breathe more deeply, fully oxygenating all the cells in your body. Your muscles will loosen and relax. Just stay focused on your breath, bringing yourself back to it gently and without judgment if your mind wanders. Breathe … and you’ll drift off to sleep.

5. Accept insomnia when it happens.

Yep, this is tough, too. We get upset when we can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. We know we have things to do in the morning. There’s work; we have responsibilities! How can we manage them if we’re too tired? We’re already stiff and achy!

Well, I don’t know about you, but somehow, I always do manage to get through the day anyway. Even at my most sleep-deprived, I always muddle through. Stressing out over it just makes it harder, you know?

So, I try to accept that I can’t sleep. I use the time. I get up, go into the living room, and read a good book. Or maybe, like tonight, I’ll go ahead and work on a project, like writing or maybe drawing. I’ll do that until I start to feel sleepy, and then I’ll go back to bed in my dark, cool, quiet room. I’ll focus on breathing and, if I’m lucky, I’ll fall back to sleep. If I’m not … well, I’ll manage. Like always.

And now, I’m finally getting sleepy. Nighters, all!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Twinnichole
    3 years ago

    I too have a sleeping disorder (idiopathic Hypersomina ), restless legs syndrome, ADHD . So my struggle is simply taking my meds that will make me shut down . There’s so much running through my brain that wasn’t accomplished during the day that I will stay up all night sometimes . The mornings have always been a struggle for me and I’m so much more productive at night than during the day. But I do agree making a set time to go to bed each night would help. If I’ve had a horrible flare during the day my body completely shuts down with pain. I become lathargic and have blurry vision and within 5 minutes I’m out it maybe 30 minutes or 3 hours .

  • MaryMF
    3 years ago

    Hi Wren! Thank you for your great article. I too have problems sleeping. When I can’t fall asleep, or wake up wide awake at 2am I used to try stuff to go back to sleep I finally gave up, it’s far less stressful to just enjoy the time. I’m off of work due to RD issues, so don’t have to worry about getting up for work. But you still feel guilty being awake at night. If you can, enjoy it, it’s a quiet peaceful time.

  • Wren moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi, MaryMF!
    What a refreshing and positive point of view about such a stress-inducing “problem!” I love it! And why not enjoy the quiet and peace of the nighttime hours? They can be a real gift in the midst of a loud, busy, and often chaotic world.
    Thank you for reminding all of us with your gentle words. 😀

  • dave1943
    3 years ago

    Hi wren,
    thank you for the write up and advice.
    It’s nice to know that I am not the only one that can have bad nights.

    Many thanks

  • Wren moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi, dave1943!
    You’re so welcome! I think one of the greatest things about is that it allows us to get together, virtually, to compare notes and comfort one another as we cope with this disease. This kind of camaraderie helps us not feel so alone–and that’s incredibly important. RD is a dreadfully isolating disease. It’s a comfort to know that others–many others–share so many of our RD-related symptoms, pains, problems, and emotions, and that they understand and empathize.
    I’m so glad you took the time to comment, Dave! I hope you won’t have so many bad nights in the future, and that I’ll hear from you again soon! 🙂

  • kat-elton
    3 years ago

    Thanks Wren. Insomnia is one of the biggest issues in RD in my opinion, as far as quality of life, health, and productivity. The more we talk about it the easier it will be on all of us. Accepting it as a reality and not getting too anxious during sleepless nights is paramount in handling insomnia well. Thanks again!

  • Wren moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi, Kat!
    You’re welcome! Insomnia really does make it harder to cope with the frequent pain and other symptoms of RD. I think anything we can do that will make sleeping more likely, or at least, making living with insomnia less difficult, is worth trying. I’m sure there are lots of ideas out there I didn’t think of, too. You–and other readers–might want to check this link on the subject:
    Thanks for stopping in and speaking up! 🙂

  • Tich
    3 years ago

    Good advice Wren. Thanks. Wish I could follow. RD pain is bad enough, and water retention has me up every 2 or 3 hours. But my sinuses swell up tight in response to biologics, making antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays necessary. So I have many nights where I awaken in a panic due to dry throat from mouth breathing. So I’m going to the allergist next week for testing.

  • Wren moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi, Tich!
    I totally understand how allergies, sinus, and other physical problems can make sleeping tough. I cope with allergies year-round myself, and so do countless others like us. You’re smart to consult an allergist! I hope the two of you will find a way to treat your allergy/sinus problems so you can sleep more restfully. It makes so much difference in how well we live with RD and its symptoms.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Here’s wishing you well! 🙂

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