I know exactly what it is like trying to sleep with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is agonizing; the pain travels. What starts as a left knee problem, ends up extending from your toes to your hip, and before too long, reaches your entire left hand side. The more you think about it, the worse it gets.
You burn up. You fight the sheets. You pace the room. For the sake of your partner, you stifle your screams, but at the same time you are desperate for a consoling word or gesture, and gradually, as the agony evolves you release a desperate cry. He turns over and catches your eye. Suddenly, you are burdened with guilt.
So what can you do to help.
1) Try not to sleep during the day. It can mess up your sleeping pattern. Also, during the daytime try to be active and create a healthy fatigue. You will sleep better as a result.
2) Relax during the evening. Don’t overuse your brain, don’t exercise, and don’t eat or drink stimulants such as coffee. You want to be in a tranquil state before bed. Being too tired can be as detrimental as being too lively.
3) Don’t force sleep upon you, and don’t worry if you are awake. Stress stops us from sleeping. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something. Don’t fret.
4) Now, for those joints. A comfortable bed is important. RA can generate too much heat and create a fever. Have layers on the bed and be prepared to add or remove covers.
5) Try to keep joints straight. Bent knees and wrists hurt more, which is why splints are often prescribed. Laying on your back can be a relaxing position for RA sufferers, but if you are like me and at times struggle to straighten knees, you may need to rotate your legs outwards from the hip or add a cushion under your knees.
Another reason for sleeping straight is so your shoulders don’t get crushed. Being on your side may initially feel like a comfortable position, but after a few hours of sleeping like that a pain may develop.
For me, sleeping on my back was unnatural, but the benefits of being pain free outweighed the benefit of laying on my side.
6) Learn your own comfortable positions. They will vary depending on where your problem lies. I often suffered from the pain on the rear of my shoulder. No matter what position I slept in, I would wake up in the early hours in agonizing pain. It took some time, but I realized if I slept on my stomach with my arm dangling over the side of the bed from the elbow down, the ache never arrived. Not only that, but if started the night with a niggle, it would disappear.
I also found, for shoulder pain in particular, that the pain was far worse in a horizontal position as opposed to a vertical one. When I was at my worst I would sit up in bed and drift into sleep. It wasn’t the best position to be in, but it allowed me to be freed of the worse of the pain. Then I could shuffle down the bed.
7) Use painkillers, but sparingly. Sometimes, I would consider them a God-send. Other times they didn’t work at all. Don’t rely on them.
8) Don’t allow adrenaline to take control. It feeds the pain. Tell yourself you are going to control the pain and breath slowly and deeply. Imagine beautiful scenes and vistas. I often visualized floating over a beautiful landscape. It’s hard keeping such images in your head, but if you can manage it, it does help. You want the adrenaline gone. The only way to achieve this is to relax.
9) Don’t worry if you can’t sleep. Stress is banned, since it is on the side of the RA. Don’t give your condition any more tools to torture you with.
Hope this helps!