How To Prioritize Sleep With Ankylosing Spondylitis

If you have ankylosing spondylitis (AS), then poor sleep is probably the norm. Wouldn’t you like to find some ways to get better sleep?

Why people with AS should prioritize sleep

The process of sleep—-which is far more active than it might seem—-invites healing and rejuvenation in a number of ways. Researchers suggest that we sleep in order to:

  • Allow the body to recover from a day’s worth of stress
  • “Recharge our batteries”
  • Satisfy the circadian “sleep drive” (which is part of the body’s effort to maintain a balance among all its systems)

Aside from the obvious benefits of sleep—-feeling rested and alert during the day-—other benefits of regular sleep for the person with AS include:

  • Lower sensitivity to pain: Poor sleep the night before has been shown to predict greater next-day pain.1 More and better sleep may help people with AS overcome spinal pain and stiffness or at least experience less of it.2
  • Improved mood: Partial sleep loss is known to lead to negative mood3, which could be linked to depression, which is so common to AS.4
  • Lower blood pressure: Chronic insomnia is associated with hypertension (or, high blood pressure), but getting adequate sleep can bring relief.5
  • Reduced inflammation in the body: Adequate sleep can protect against the fatigue of autoimmune conditions like AS which are marked by chronic inflammation.6
  • Improved immune system behavior: Our immune systems rely on sleep to achieve a balanced response by the immune system to viruses and infections.7

You may struggle to adequately treat your AS, but vying for more and better sleep can help you find relief even if it can’t eliminate your condition. Practicing good sleep hygiene can be a worthwhile goal for those with AS.

What is good sleep hygiene?

This describes the behaviors you enact and the decisions you make to prioritize quality nighttime sleep. By making bedtime a priority, you have opportunities to take control of some of the factors that contribute to the pain and discomfort of AS. The areas you can control include the sleeping environment, sleep-wake rituals, and healthy daytime habits.

Sleeping environment

Bedding comfort can be challenging. Your mattress should be firm and shouldn’t sag; it’s best to replace yours every five years so your back will be supported. The folks at Spine Universe suggest that you strive to sleep on your back and avoid curled positions.8 Pillows shouldn’t have a high “loft” to them; stick with a flat pillow or even a folded towel to prevent distortion of your spine near the neck as you sleep.

Bedtime and morning rituals

Some ideas for relaxing and winding down at the end of the day include using aromatherapy, playing soft music, soaking in a warm Epsom salts bath, having a massage, stretching, or practicing yoga-style breathing.

Also important: Put away your handheld electronic devices an hour before bed. Aside from the fact they deliver content that can overstimulate you at bedtime, their use also leads to painful posture problems and exposure to blue spectrum light, which can shut down your melatonin production (melatonin is the “sleep” hormone).

Daytime behaviors that lead to better nighttime sleep

If you struggle to get your joints moving in the morning, you may need to build in a morning movement practice. Something gentle like tai chi or qi gong or the gentlest forms of yoga can help right out of bed.

If you can get some form of deep tissue massage, even if it’s infrequent-—once every month, even—-that can help your joints and muscles work together more harmoniously.

Any of these exercises, done in the morning, support your circadian rhythms as well. However you can get your body to move on a regular basis, the better you’ll feel both day and night.

Treat your pain

It’s frequently said that “pain is the enemy of sleep." Painsomnia—-struggling to fall asleep or to maintain sleep—-is a significant symptom of AS that should be taken seriously. Ask your doctor about solutions for spinal pain and stiffness that could be keeping you up at night.

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