Sleep Better When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Can't catch your zzzs because of RA-related pain? Try one of these sleep tips, from folks living with rheumatoid arthritis, to finally get some shut eye.

Katie Alberts
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We asked folks living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and arthritis experts for their favorite ways to beat the nighttime pain that can thwart a good night’s sleep. What they say might just help you drift off into dreamland!

Relax this part of your body

Your face! “A few years ago, I read about the amount of stress we carry in our facial muscles and how, if you can’t sleep, you should try to focus on relaxing that part of your body,” reveals Tiffany Westrich of Los Angeles, who has RA. “For me, it works like magic, helping me drift off while distracting me from pain. What you do is try to move all your face muscles forward, which causes them to relax. Take a breath and do it again, relaxing more and then repeat. I find it helps to start with the jaw, then the forehead, then the cheeks. After a few breaths it feels like your face is letting out a big sigh of relief!”

Get a pillow that “remembers”

Memory foam isn’t just for mattress pads, says Baltimore-based mystery writer Jennifer Vido. “You can buy affordable pillows—mine was $20—made from the material and designed specifically for different joints. I had a hip replacement, so I use one meant to keep your hips in alignment while you sleep, which prevents a lot of pain.”

Claim your space

“It helps me to have access to my own separate bed,” says RA veteran Mary Felstiner of San Francisco. “That way, I can sleep and rise, then sleep again, on my own schedule—and maximize every little bit of sleep I can get.”

Thin out your fitness routine

Piling all your exercise into one or two sessions a week can make sleeping well that night all the more difficult. “I try to do something active every day, so I’m never overextending,” says Joan Derrick of Hazel Crest, IL, who was diagnosed with RA 11 years ago. “I mix it up between walking, weight lifting and stretching.”

Harness the power of heat
Roberta Stenzel of Waseca, MN, who has RA, says that doubling up on heat therapy immediately before bed improves her sleep. “First comes a nice hot soak in the tub, then I apply a heating rub on swollen areas and after that it’s right to bed. Doing both steps together seems to be more effective for me than doing either one alone.” 

Give your blankets a lift
Arthritis expert Shelly Peterman Schwarz of Madison, WI, says one of the best ways to prevent waking up in pain is to reduce the weight of blankets and comforters. For example, if your bed has a footboard, drape extra-long blankets over the end to take the pressure off your feet. Another option: Install a blanket-support bar at the end of the bed to “lift” your blankets.

April 2013