When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), bedtime can be a challenge. Read on for five tips for getting a full night's rest.
Tim S., of Cuero, TX, had the same bedtime ritual since his early 20s. Each night, he took a warm shower to loosen up the sore muscles that always seemed to bother him. Usually, the relief was temporary; the pain would return in the middle of the night. "At 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, I'd wake up and go over to the TV room and stretch," says the 47-year-old, who is married and has a 10-year-old son. Afterward, he'd take another hot shower and even spend another 15 minutes sitting in the hot tub, hoping to ease the symptoms.
Unfortunately, this went on for more than 20 years. Then, a year ago, Tim learned that his pain-filled sleepless nights were really due to joint inflammation. Doctors diagnosed him with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that was causing inflammation in his joints and spine.
You are not alone
Having trouble getting a good night's sleep is a common problem for people with RA. In fact, studies have shown that approximately one-third of individuals with RA experience disrupted or poor-quality sleep. If you have RA, you know how important sleep is for maintaining your health. According to experts at Johns Hopkins University, people with rheumatoid arthritis often need over 10 hours of sleep a night, or eight hours a night and a two-hour nap during the day.
If you are struggling with sleep issues due to RA, try these suggestions to get a better night's rest:
1. Cover the basics
Your bedroom should help you relax. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress, high-quality pillows and no clutter.
2. Develop a relaxation ritual
Plan to relax and wind down at least one hour before you go to sleep. This could include dimming the lights, turning off the TV, listening to soft music, meditating, and/or taking a warm bath with candles and a book.
3. Stretch, stretch, stretch!
At home—and even on the road when he travels for work—Tim makes it a priority to take a hot shower each night. He also does a series of stretches, including yoga.
4. Have sleep and pain medications ready
Check with your doctor to identify the appropriate medicine to take in the evening. After three or four nights of poor sleep, Tim says he takes a prescribed sleep medication—but only after he has gone through his typical routine of stretching and a hot shower. "I used to reach for a sleep aid when I could have stretched," he notes. "It is so convenient to take the pill."
5. Exercise regularly
"I try to get good exercise during the course of the day. It just makes my joints feel more lubricated," says Tim, who likes to walk, bike, swim and work out on the elliptical machine. However, he makes sure to work out earlier in the day, as exercising late will stimulate him and keep him awake.
Most important, be sure to learn your own body's unique needs. "I have a laundry list of what works for me and what doesn't work for me," says Tim. "My quality of life comes from knowing how to deal with RA."