Sleeping Through My Pain

personal moonEarlier today, I was thinking about the role that sleep plays in my life.

My relationship with sleep has changed quite a bit over the years. When I was an architecture student for eight years, sleep was something I barely knew. On one too many nights, I cranked through drawing after drawing and model after model, only to step out on the terrace and see the sun rise over lower Manhattan or the city of Cambridge. My relationship with sleep – or my lack thereof – was by no means the healthiest it could be.

A couple of years ago, I had another unhealthy relationship with sleep – but this time things were on the other extreme. I slept too much…and even though I didn’t readily admit it at the time, I slept in order to try to avoid my pain and my life with chronic illness. It was a viscous cycle. The more I slept, the less mobile I became. The less mobile I became, the more I slept. Then depression took hold.

Over the past nine months, I think my relationship with sleep has improved quite a bit. I don’t get too much, and I don’t get too little. Most importantly, I no longer try to plan ahead and define exactly how much sleep I might need at any given time. Instead, I listen to my body and adjust accordingly. If I need more sleep, I work it into my day. If I need less sleep, then I still try to not push myself too hard.

Sometimes my sleep isn’t as relaxing as it should be. I think this has been the case over the past few days, as my aches and pains have moved up a notch. At times, I wake up feeling not fully rested, and am bothered by all of the anxious thoughts that invaded my dreams the night before. I’ve come to learn that this is a sign of an increase in my disease activity, and work even harder to give my body the rest that it needs. Sometimes I even resort to taking some sleep medication – although I limit myself to half a pill four nights in a row.

Yesterday afternoon, I was passing a typical lazy Sunday here at my house. At one point I felt (and actually could see) the joints in my left hand and wrist moving around. Since it was Halloween, I was appropriately reminded of the werewolf horror movie where the hands stretch out and then get covered with fur. Luckily I had no abnormal growth of hair, but it was very reminiscent of a slo-mo version of these scenes that most of us are no doubt familiar with.

This wasn’t the first time that my hand and wrist have been so stretched apart by inflammation. This has happened many times in the past, and in those cases I usually screamed out in pure agony. This time, however, I decided to roll over and take a nap…and despite the intense pain, I actually fell asleep.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post, when I was thinking about my relationship with sleep. I no longer use sleep to escape from life, but I do use it to cope with some of my most absolute worst episodes of pain…and I think this is okay.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

5 Comments
5 comments
  1. Jeff says:

    I have found I need more sleep than I ever have before. I have always felt I needed 8 hours, but often failed to meet that goal. But now even at 8 hours, I feel like I need more. I have tried napping. But you wake up stiff and it takes a while to warm up again. But at least you feel rested. I have not had to resort to sleep meds yet, but at least once a month I will not be able to fall asleep for hours. Have you found a way to reduce the recovery time after a nap? Heat, pre-med, any ideas? Keep up the work.

  2. Lisa H says:

    Thanks for posting this! I had that joint spreading thing happen with my hands for the first time this weekend and I was wondering if it was RA or just another bit of randomness that happens to just me. I’m sorry it’s happening to you, too, as it is dreadfully painful, but am happy to know it’s not just me.
    Thanks again.

  3. Carla says:

    Sleep, like laughter, is great medicine. Like any medicine, it needs to be used appropriately and it sounds like you’ve found a routine that works for you.

    As you know, I’ve been following your blog for a while (almost since I was first diagnosed more than 2 years ago). You seem to have made such great progress in your life, and although the disease hasn’t seemed to relent, you’ve seemed to fill your life back up with good things and a great outlook. I’ve been very pleased to watch this transformation.

  4. Jenna says:

    I just found your site. Thank you so much for this post, it is piognant and honest and unfortunately so true for people dealing with the pain of RA. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis which is an RA related disease and I know exactly what you are talking about. My sleep is so much better since being on Remicade but I take sleep medication (the only script I still fill besides the occasional prednisone for a flare.) Sleep still eludes me at times but rest is really wonderful for my weary body :) Thanks again for this wonderful post. Now I need to check out the rest of your site! – Jenna

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