Good heavens – it’s RA Blog week again!
It seems like only yesterday that Rick at RA Diabetes Blog was organising the last RA blog week … I’m not sure where this last year’s gone!
Today’s prompt for RA Blog Week is mental health – well, the reason I started this blog in the first place was partly to keep me sane … but then again, the reason I’ve hardly posted the last few years is the fact I haven’t had major RA problems and I therefore haven’t had the commensurate mental health issues. However, I do believe they are, for me, commensurate and correlated.
I have mentioned before that if the RA is bad then I can’t sleep, and how important sleep is for me. I think this short post about dreaming and sleeping sums up just how important sleep is for my mental health – and if the RA is bad, then the pain keeps me awake and a downward spiral ensues. I remember once when I had a very bad flare, even though I’d experienced equally bad flares before and come through them, I got very, very down with this one and convinced that I was never going to walk normally again, if at all. WRONG, thankfully – unless I’m in a flare I walk without aids all the time – I’m very lucky that my RA is mild and well-controlled. However, with that flare I was getting hardly any sleep, and when I did sleep I was probably dreaming (knowing me) about life in a wheelchair … although at least in my wheelchair dreams my wheelchair is often a flying one so not so bad … but I digress; the point is that’s an example of how the RA, lack of sleep, feeling low cycle can just spiral down and down.
So … how do I stop that happening? Well, there are two main areas to deal with and these are dealing with the RA flare itself and sleeping better. Since there is a Tips and Tricks post coming up later in RA blog week, in which I plan to talk about pain management, I’ll talk a bit about sleeping better here.
I’ve never ever been a good sleeper. As a young teenager I used to love listening to the radio between midnight and 2 am … because even though I was supposed to be asleep I was mostly awake anyway, so why not? I’ve always been one for very vivid and usually completely bonkers dreams, which quite often are not pleasant. I also move around a lot in my sleep, talk a lot, shout quite a bit and am generally not a pleasant person to be with … or to be! But just recently, helped by watching some lectures on sleep physiology and also on chronic pain (even though I don’t have chronic pain, thank goodness) and mostly helped by Hubby deciding he was going to buy some fancy Bluetooth lighting, I’ve found two strategies that really help me sleep.
The first is very simple – blackout curtains! My, what a difference. I was always waking up at 4am or thereabouts in the summer and the light would be streaming in through the not-so-thick curtains and I’d think ‘Gosh, I’m wide awake’ and then I’d be lying there trying to get back to sleep and not managing very well for often an hour or two. Now, having gone through the painful process of making myself some blackout curtains (I HATE MAKING CURTAINS), I no longer have this problem.
The second is the Bluetooth lighting system that hubby got, which at first I thought was sheer indulgence – you can control the lights from your i-Pad? Big, fat, hairy deal (although I did have to admit it was rather fun) – you can also get up and flick a switch, and that’s slightly less lazy… ! But I was wrong, and here’s why.
- You can control the ‘colour temperature’ of the lighting, and one of the sleep lectures mentioned that warmer, more orange lighting was more conducive to getting to sleep while cooler, more blue lighting was energizing and waking.
- I can now set the light in my bedroom to gradually dim from normal brightness to ‘nightlight’ over about half an hour.
So half an hour before I think I should be trying to sleep, I turn my warm light onto the gradual dimming program and by ‘lights-out time’ the light is very nearly out ,and so am I. Honestly, I feel soooo sleepy at that point most nights and I’m … well, out like a light. This really was never the case before – normal for me would be falling asleep half an hour to an hour after the lights went out.
As I said before, good sleep and mental health are inextricably linked for me, so this is a massive help. I am also finding that with better sleep (and other things like Pilates, and consciousness about the position/posture I’m in etc.) I’m physically healthier too, so it’s a win-win … kind of an upward spiral I hope, rather than the downward one I mentioned earlier.
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