How we’re battling poor sleep because of ankylosing spondylitis

Symptoms like joint stiffness made our nights difficult, till we found some relief

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by Jemma Newman |

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Note: This column describes the author’s husband’s experiences with meloxicam. Not everyone will have the same response to treatment. Consult your doctor before starting or stopping a therapy.

Sleeping beside my husband, Dave, who has ankylosing spondylitis (AS), I’ve noticed that his nights are more restless when his symptoms are worse. I can feel him tossing and turning uncomfortably throughout the night, trying to find a position that will let him get some rest.

Often his poor sleep keeps me awake, too, because every time he flips over to try to relieve the increasing joint stiffness from AS, I wake up. I’m a pretty light sleeper, and his struggles make me consider moving to our spare bed for the night, just to get a few extra z’s.

Because I have AS, too, I know what it’s like to want to sleep, but can’t. After midnight, if my disease is flaring up, I can feel an intense burning in my middle spine and ribs, also known as the thoracic spine. Particularly before I started the no-starch diet for ankylosing spondylitis, I couldn’t sleep after about 2 a.m., no matter how much stretching I did or how many pillows I propped myself up with.

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Earlier this year, Dave’s pain and stiffness started getting worse, troubling him throughout the day and night. He kept track of his sleep rating with the Garmin Forerunner watch he wears 24 hours a day. It measures his sleep stages as well as his daily activity, and it clearly showed a decline in sleep quality when his AS symptoms were worse.

Strapped to his wrist, the watch tracked and rated his stages of sleep, including light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Garmin explains that these sleep insights are identified “using a combination of heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, body movement and other key inputs.”

Dave felt he was waking up exhausted every morning. The Garmin watch validated this feeling, displaying sleep ratings that were often “poor” or “fair” instead of “good” or “excellent.”

Showing an improvement in sleep

After seeing his rheumatologist at the hospital, Dave was prescribed meloxicam, a strong nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, and was advised to take it daily instead of reactively when he felt he needed it.

The resulting reduction in joint inflammation and pain seemed to have an almost immediate impact on Dave’s quality of sleep. He started the course of meloxicam on Feb. 22, and his sleep results on the Garmin watch showed a clear uptick in quality. We were delighted to see he was getting far more “good” ratings, and Dave felt he was waking up rested, without taking any other sleep aids or medication.

As his partner, I certainly enjoyed him lying still in bed all night, instead of flipping over like bacon being fried until crispy!

After Dave stopped the monthlong course of meloxicam on March 23, his Garmin sleep ratings reverted to “poor” and “fair” more often, with fewer “good” ratings.

Sleep, the great repairer

Sleep is incredibly important for our physical and mental well-being, allowing our bodies to repair and our immune system to function properly. Both Dave and I struggle to sleep well when our AS is causing pain and stiffness, and that lack of quality sleep can make us more irritable and easily stressed.

Though our AS medication seems to aim primarily at controlling rampant joint inflammation, the sleep improvement is a wonderful bonus.

As with many things related to AS, achieving better sleep through medication is a balancing act. Just as a lack of sleep and chronic inflammation can cause damage, medication also comes with potential side effects or health warnings. Dave and I don’t approach new strategies for AS lightly; we always carefully consider the potential risks versus the possible rewards. Please do the same and speak to your doctor about the best solution for your situation.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


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