A woman with lupus lying down to sleep with a sleeping mask, which has images of eyelids on it. One closed, the other open and looking at the moon.

Why Sleep Is Important For People Living With Lupus

People who have lupus often notice that they have trouble sleeping. Lupus can cause many problems that can lead to poor sleep. People living with lupus can have joint pain which makes sleeping difficult.1 They may also experience confusion and brain fog which can be caused by lack of sleep. This can cause a cycle of confusion and exhaustion that makes sleep even more difficult.

Tiredness (sometimes known as fatigue) is a common complaint among most people who see their doctor.1 Doctors report that 1 in 4 people who come into the doctor’s office complaining of tiredness or fatigue. People with lupus say that their tiredness can feel even more extreme. As many as 8 out of 10 lupus patients experience fatigue.1

Why sleep is important

Sleep is how your body restores itself.2 During sleep, your body repairs itself from some of the damage that occurs during the day. Sleep helps your immune system work better and respond correctly. Sleep is very important for your brain to function correctly. Without sleep, you may:2

  • Struggle to make decisions
  • Have difficulty learning
  • Notice memory problems
  • Experience increased symptoms of depression

How does lack of sleep affect people with lupus?

People with lupus often complain of fatigue, memory and decision-making problems.1 These problems can often be related to a lack of sleep. These sleeping problems can cause a cycle of poor sleep and fatigue. This means that not sleeping can cause anxiety about sleeping, which causes less sleep, which causes more anxiety, which causes less sleep.1 Consistently getting less sleep can be especially harmful to someone with an immune system disorder since sleep restores your immune system.

The importance of sleep hygiene

The first thing you can do to get better sleep is to take a look at your sleep hygiene.3 This means that you should use your bedroom for sleep (and sex) only. This helps your brain recognize that your bedroom is for sleeping. Electronic devices (computers, tablets, phones and yes, televisions) that emit blue light should not be in the bedroom.3 You should try to stop using these devices a half hour to an hour before you go to bed. Blue light can change your natural sleep rhythm, so try to use these devices less at night. Many devices also have settings to reduce blue light. Consider buying an alarm clock to keep your cell phone out of your bedroom.

Most people find they sleep the best if they have their room cool and dark.3 You may want to consider a sleep mask to reduce light at bedtime. A fan can help keep your bedroom cool and creates background noise. This background noise is known as “white noise.” You can also find white noise machines that help many people sleep soundly.3 Some people prefer earplugs to help reduce sound in their bedroom. If you have pets, they should sleep in a different room if they wake you up at night.

Suggestions to improve sleep

Daily exercise is helpful for sleep.3 You should exercise at the same time every day. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime. You should exercise at least 5 hours before you plan to sleep. Even low impact activities, such as walking, swimming, and riding a bike will help you sleep better. If the exercise causes aches and pains, or if you have pain before sleep, you may want to take a warm bath in Epsom salts to help ease any aches.3

Some people find that they have a hard time sleeping because their brain won’t turn off.3 Writing in a diary can be helpful. Meditation can help you clear your mind before bedtime. There are many guided meditation apps available that may help you relax your mind as well as your body before sleep. Many people think that alcohol helps them relax, but alcohol reduces your quality of sleep.3 Try to avoid both alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.

When to speak with your doctor

If you try these tips and are still having a problem falling asleep, you should talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a sleep specialist, recommend a counselor, or as a last resort prescribe a medication. Your health care team may have other suggestions to help you sleep better. Make sure you let them know what you have already tried, and what has and hasn’t worked for you.

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