Rheumatoid arthritis and sleep

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect many parts of your body and health. A lot of people who have RA are in constant pain or discomfort. Combined with the stress of managing your condition, this can lead to sleep problems.

Learn about some of the ways that RA can affect sleep. And pick up some strategies that might help you sleep better at night.

Sleep is essential to good physical and mental health. During sleep, your immune system produces protective chemicals that help fight infection. If you don’t get enough shut-eye, your immune system can’t perform this important function. It’s especially important to get enough sleep if you have RA, because your immune system is already compromised.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage adults to aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. When your joints are swollen and sore, that target can be hard to hit. It might be difficult to find a comfortable position, fall asleep, or stay asleep until morning.

Joint pain is only one of the challenges that you might face. Some medications used to treat RA can increase your risk of sleep problems.

For example, your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in your joints. These drugs can raise your risk of sleep disorders and interfere with your sleep cycle. On the flip side, some painkillers can leave you feeling drowsy during the day. You might be tempted to nap, but too much daytime snoozing can make it harder sleep at night.

If sleep feels like a struggle, talk to your doctor.

Adjusting your treatment and lifestyle habits might be in order. Establishing better bedtime habits, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can help you enjoy higher quality sleep.

If you suspect that your medications are interfering with your sleep, talk with your doctor. They might prescribe another drug for you to try. Or you might be encouraged to take your drugs at different times of day. For example, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers during the day and narcotic pain relievers at night might alleviate your sleep problems.

Always talk to your doctor before changing your medication routine. Take all of your medicine as prescribed.

A consistent sleep schedule is key to a good night’s rest. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Establish an evening routine that helps you relax as bedtime approaches. You might begin by turning off computers and other bright screens. Then take a relaxing bath, listen to soothing music, write in your journal, or meditate for a while. Give yourself at least an hour to wind down before you hit the hay.

Fatigue is a common symptom of RA. You might find yourself reaching for caffeinated beverages to give yourself a boost. To avoid insomnia at night, limit those stimulating drinks to the morning.

It’s also important to avoid eating big meals or drinking alcohol too close to bedtime. They might leave you feeling sleepy at first, but they can lower the quality of your sleep throughout the night. Consider eating a light dinner and avoiding alcohol before bed.

Gentle exercise can help relax your body, relieve your pain, and improve your sleep. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you develop a fitness routine that’s safe and comfortable for you. Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming, is essential to good health. You should also incorporate muscle-strengthening activities and stretching into your schedule. For example, tai chi might be a good fit for you.

RA-related pain and treatments can affect your ability to sleep. So can the stress of managing a chronic illness.

Luckily, you can take steps to improve your sleep. Talk to your doctor about your medications. Follow a regular sleep schedule. Establish a calming bedtime routine. Eat a well-balanced diet. And get regular exercise. These strategies may help you get more and higher quality sleep, giving you the rest you need.