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Improving Sleep with RA

Updated on March 02, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Laurie Berger

When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), getting a good night’s sleep can be challenging. Physical pain, anxiety, and other symptoms of RA frequently keep myRAteam members up at night – and exhausted the next day.

Some 80 percent of people with RA report insomnia-related fatigue. “Since my RA diagnosis, I have lots of fatigue during the day and insomnia at night. It’s like my brain gets wired up at bedtime and I can't sleep,” said one member. “I’ve been awake for five days straight with no sleep in sight,” added another.

RA-related Sleep Disrupters
Members of myRAteam report increased symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and other related conditions from lack of sleep, including:

Joint Pain and Inflammation

As many as two-thirds of people with chronic pain also have insomnia. “I wake up every three hours each night from pain in both knees,” said one member. Another shared, “I’ve been awake for 50+ hours now because of a current flare up.”

Sleep Apnea

Members who’ve gotten tested and treated for sleep apnea - a condition which causes breathing to stop and start throughout the night - say their sleep has improved. “Since using a CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) mask, I [rarely] get up to use the restroom, and my quality of sleep is so much better.” Another member agreed: “CPAP really makes a difference!! After putting on the mask, I’m out-like-a-light in five minutes - and sleep all night.”

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Several members of myRAteam have been diagnosed with this sleep disorder, which involves involuntary leg movements. “RLS causes terrible insomnia but I’ve finally found meds to help and my sleep has greatly improved,” a member shared. “I also started using essential oils with good effects.”

Medications

Some RA medications – such as Prednisone and Plaquenil (Hydroxychloroquine) - can contribute to insomnia. Members frequently talk about sleeplessness after taking these medications – which help reduce RA-related inflammation. “I have a love/hate relationship with Prednisone. Nothing on earth can compare with it for wiping out pain from a flare, but the severe insomnia is unbearable,” said one member. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage medication-related insomnia.

RA Sleep Improvers
Members of myRAteam use wide range of alternative remedies and therapies to reduce pain and improve sleep. They include:

Natural and Herbal Supplements

Melatonin is frequently cited by members as an effective sleep improver. Herbal remedies known for their sedative qualities, such as chamomile, valerian root and passion flower, have also helped members get the rest they need. “I've been taking valerian root capsules - they smell and taste awful, so I swallow them fast.” Another shared, “Passionflower capsules work great for me; I noticed it also reduced my inflammation.” Consult with your doctor before taking any new herbs or supplements.

Meditation and Relaxation

Mindfulness techniques are another tool members use to calm down before bedtime. “I recommend practicing meditation. Over time, you learn how to shut out thoughts that are keeping you awake and focus on the present moment,” said one member. Another meditating member shared a new sleep discovery: Floatation REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy). Floatation REST involves floating in a specialized pool filled with Epsom-salt. A clinical trial is currently underway to evaluate the efficacy of this treatment. “I’ve slept great since starting to float,” a myRAteam member wrote.

Medical Marijuana (where legal)

Cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD), used alone or in combination with other remedies (as prescribed by doctors), have helped many members improve sleep with RA. “I keep a CBD vape next to my bed and use it whenever I wake up,” said one member. Another found success using “prescription cannabis at night and CBD during the day.” One man who takes hemp gummies said, “They didn’t relieve my pain but helped with anxiety and level of calm.”

Other approaches used by members to improve sleep include:

  • Over-the-counter antihistamines and pain relievers
  • Lavender aromatherapy oil or spray
  • Exercise
  • Smartphone sleep and meditation apps
  • Diet changes
  • Turning off cellphones and other computer devices three hours before bedtime

On myRAteam, the social network and online support group for those living with RA, members talk about a range of personal experiences including improving sleep with RA.

Can you relate? Have another topic you'd like to discuss or explore? Go to myRAteam today and start – or join - a conversation. You'll be surprised how many others share similar stories.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Laurie Berger has been a health care writer, reporter, and editor for the past 14 years. Learn more about her here.

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