Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects more than 1.3 million Americans. Pain, discomfort, and the side effects of medication can make it harder for a person with RA to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults over 18 should get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night. Getting less than this on a regular basis can have an impact on a person’s health. Lack of sleep can make RA symptoms worse, and could lead to a flare-up of the disease. Fatigue can make the pain more difficult to manage.
RA and insomnia
RA can cause pain, which may cause stress or worry and prevent a person from getting to sleep. Some people may find that their symptoms cause them to wake during the night.
Some medications, such as prednisone and hydroxychloroquine, also have the side effect of causing sleeplessness. It is a good idea to take these drugs earlier in the day to reduce this effect.
Tips for dealing with insomnia
Tips to deal with insomnia include making lifestyle changes rather than taking medication. Ways to prevent or reduce insomnia include the following:
Gentle exercise is a meaningful way to reduce or improve RA symptoms. Exercise can also help a person to sleep and can improve mood and well-being.
The CDC recommend that a person does 2.5 hours of moderate exercise every week. However, people with RA should start slowly and build up the amount of activity they do according to their ability. It is better to do a small amount of exercise than nothing at all.
Walking, swimming, cycling, and stretching are all examples of exercise that will not put too much strain on the joints or the body.
Exercise can also help to keep joints flexible, which should improve the range of motion a person has in their joints. People should avoid activities that put too much pressure on the joints, for example twisting or jumping.
RA can also cause disability in the long-term and exercise can help to prevent or delay this.
2. Cutting out caffeine
Caffeine can stop people from falling asleep.
People with RA should avoid drinking caffeine late in the afternoon or evening if it is affecting their sleep.
3. Avoiding alcohol
Drinking alcohol in the evening can stop a person from falling asleep easily. It may also mean a person wakes during the night or does not sleep as deeply.
Drinking alcohol alongside some RA medications could also pose a health risk.
4. Trying not to nap
Some RA medication can cause drowsiness, and napping or falling asleep during the day can make it more difficult to sleep at night.
People should try to avoid taking a nap during the day for this reason. Getting some fresh air or doing stretching exercises can help a person feel less drowsy and avoid napping.
Living with RA can be stressful, and taking time to relax, particularly before trying to fall asleep, can help.
Try creating a bedtime routine that is the same every night. People may choose to read a book, light a candle, or play some quiet music.
Sometimes, when a person is trying to get to sleep, worries or concerns often intrude into their minds. Keeping a notepad or dictaphone by the bed to record these concerns can help keep them out of mind.
6. Practicing good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene means adopting good habits for better sleep, including:
- going to bed and getting up at the same time every day
- making the bedroom a quiet, relaxing space
- keeping the temperature cool in the bedroom
- using a blackout blind to make sure the bedroom is dark enough to sleep
- switching off electronic devices 30 minutes before getting into bed
Good sleep hygiene can help the body recognize when it is time for sleep. If a person is relaxed and has no distractions, they should be able to get to sleep faster.
Research on mindfulness meditation suggests that it can help to treat insomnia.
Taking time to do a meditation exercise, such as focusing on breathing, can help to calm the mind and relax the body.
Meditating can make it easier to fall asleep, or help a person go back to sleep if they wake in the night.
8. Not overeating before bed
Going to sleep with a stomach that is too full can stop a person getting to sleep.
Try to eat at least a couple of hours before going to bed. Any snacks before trying to fall asleep should be light.
According to an article in the journal Rheumatoid Arthritis, people with RA who also have sleep problems tend to have a lower pain threshold. This, in turn, can cause more difficulty sleeping. It could be possible that lack of sleep affects the way that the brain deals with pain.
Sleep is essential to well-being. Sleep is particularly crucial for people with RA for lessening symptoms and helping them deal with pain or discomfort.