While I’m sad to see the end of summer (if you can call it that this year!), I’m very excited to see the leaves changing colour to signify the beginning of autumn, my favourite season. I don’t know about you but there’s nothing I like more than a bright, crisp autumn day, the excuse to get out my numerous pairs of woolly gloves and tea-cosy hats, tuck into some comforting hot puddings and warm myself by a good bonfire. The only thing I absolutely dread about autumn is getting used to the cold, dark early mornings; dragging myself out of bed when my brain is protesting that surely it must still be the middle of the night!
I find getting up a challenge and I consider myself fortunate that I’m a very good sleeper with the ability to sleep anywhere, on anything and with any amount of noise around me, but I’m aware that many others aren’t so lucky. But getting a good night’s sleep is essential for everybody, especially if you’re living with a long term health condition like RA. Fatigue is obviously one of the major symptoms of RA, and there is evidence to suggest that sleep and pain are intrinsically linked. Living with pain on a daily basis can exacerbate sleep problems making it more difficult to get to, or stay, asleep; and poor non-restorative sleep then contributes to daytime symptoms of RA, increasing pain, stiffness and fatigue. Which makes perfect sense to me, when you’re feeling tired and run down everything seems to get on top of you and any sort of pain is going to be more difficult to cope with. So getting a really good night of restorative sleep could be beneficial in many ways.
‘Sleep hygiene’ looks at simple adjustments that can be made to your bedtime routine and sleeping environment that can help you get to sleep more easily and stay asleep. One of the most valuable tips I’ve learnt (as I haven’t always found sleep so easy to come by) is that if you can’t sleep don’t lie and fret about it. I know I would worry about how tired I’d be in the morning, and the things I needed to do the next day all of which just resulted in making me anxious and putting my brain into overdrive! Exactly the opposite of the calm, relaxed state needed to fall asleep! If you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes then get up. Go and sit somewhere dark, quiet and warm. Maybe read for a while, or make a warm milky drink and try not to worry that you’re not asleep. We sleep in cycles of 90 minutes, and it doesn’t matter if there is a break between these periods of rest.
We have compiled, with the help of Dr Shilpa Selvan and Dr Lyn Williamson from Great Western Hospital, a Sleep Hygiene guide which is available to download from our website: nras.org.uk/about_rheumatoi...
It includes lots of helpful hints about your sleep environment, things to avoid, relaxing exercises, and sleeping positions. There is also lots of useful information and tips on getting a good nights’ sleep on both the British Sleep Society website: sleeping.org.uk/
And the NHS Choices website: nhs.uk/livewell/sleep/Pages...
I also recently found out that some research suggests that a lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain. So that’s another great reason to put good sleep hygiene into practice especially if, like me, you have a soft spot for hot apple crumble and custard in the autumn!