6 Sleep Secrets for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Is rheumatoid arthritis preventing you from getting a good night’s rest? Try one of these real-life tips to help you sleep better with RA.

By
Health Monitor Staff

Sleep is essential for maintaining your health, especially if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Yet studies show that approximately one-third of individuals with RA experience disrupted or poor-quality sleep. Nighttime pain and inflammation can make falling and staying asleep challenging.

So what's the solution? We asked folks living with RA for their favorite ways to sleep better. What they say might just help you drift off into dreamland!

RA sleep secret #1: Relax your face
Tiffany Westrich of Los Angeles, who has RA, says that relaxing your facial muscles, which carry a lot of stress, can help improve sleep. "It works like magic, helping me drift off while distracting me from pain. Try to move all of 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!"

RA sleep secret #2:
Get a pillow that remembers

Memory foam isn’t just for mattress pads, says Jennifer Vido, a Baltimore-based mystery writer who was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 8. “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 designed to keep your hips in alignment while you sleep, which prevents a lot of pain.”

RA sleep secret #3:
Claim your space!

"It helps me to have 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."

RA sleep secret #4:
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.

RA sleep secret #5:
Space out your fitness routine

Squeezing all of your exercise into one or two sessions a week can make sleeping well 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.”

RA sleep secret #6:
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.” 

Published
April 2013