Tips for Overcoming Sleepless Nights with Psoriasis

People with psoriasis, and especially psoriatic arthritis, often have trouble getting the sleep they need. Indeed, nearly half of all people responding to a National Psoriasis Foundation survey reported that the chronic autoimmune condition interferes with their sleep. “Many people with psoriasis can have trouble falling asleep and frequently wake during the night because their skin is itchy and inflamed,” says Stefan C. Weiss, MD, a dermatologist at the Weiss Skin Institute in Boca Raton, Fla. Here, 10 ways to overcome your sleeplessness.

Set the Stage for Sleep

Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. Keep the room cool, but not cold, to help soothe psoriasis symptoms. To fight insomnia, turn off all sources of light, including your computer monitor. If you’re very sensitive to sights and sounds, buy an eye mask and earplugs. Choose a mattress that fits your body type and provides support. If you have psoriatic arthritis, you might find that a waterbed allows you to move more easily and helps keep your aching joints loose.

Stick to a Sleep Schedule

To sleep well, you need to set your body clock. Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends. If you’re taking medication for your psoriasis symptoms, talk with your physician about the best time for you to take it, suggests Dr. Weiss. You don’t want your meds to interfere with your sleep. Also, ask your doctor about medications that can relieve itching.

Work Exercise Into Your Day

Studies show that exercise, especially outdoors, can help fight insomnia. Talk to your psoriasis doctor before beginning any exercise program. Once you have the okay, work toward a routine that includes at least 30 minutes, five times a week, of aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, or biking. The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends also that people with psoriasis include 15 minutes of stretching. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime — this could lead to trouble sleeping.

Relax Before Bedtime

You need to be in the proper mind-set for sleep. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and visualization may do the trick by making you sleepy and helping to relieve the stress of coping with psoriasis symptoms. Other options include sipping a cup of herbal tea or warm milk, listening to soothing music, and reading a good book. One word of caution: If you drink a warm beverage in the evening to help you relax, don’t indulge too close to bedtime — otherwise, your sleep may be disrupted not by psoriasis but by a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Also, avoid any stimulants, such as caffeine, late in the evening.

Slip Into Cotton Pajamas

Choose soft cotton sleepwear, Weiss says. Cotton won’t rub against your skin and irritate your psoriasis plaques. Skin that itches severely or causes you pain can wake you up, and then you can have trouble falling back to sleep. Cotton is also the most breathable fabric and can help you stay cool, which is important when you are trying to sleep.

Apply a Nighttime Moisturizer

It’s important to keep your skin moist when you have psoriasis, Weiss says. “The thicker and greasier the moisturizer, the more it will help,” he says. If you need to moisturize psoriasis plaques on your hands and feet, slip on cotton gloves and socks before you go to sleep to keep the emollients from rubbing off onto your linens.

Don't Overindulge Before Bed

Drinking alcohol too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep, so nix the nightcap in favor of water or tea. And don’t eat a big, heavy meal right before you hit the sack. It’s hard to sleep on a full stomach or if you’ve consumed too much sugar. On the other hand, don’t go to bed hungry, either, or you might wake up in the night wanting food. If you have trouble sleeping because your tummy is growling on top of bothersome psoriasis symptoms, consider a light snack before bed.

Nix the Cigarettes

There are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t smoke — and why you should quit if you do. Besides the obvious cancer and heart disease risks, smoking may make your psoriasis worse. It also can make it harder to sleep if you experience nicotine withdrawal at night. Certainly, don’t light up near bedtime.

Don't Just Toss and Turn

Though it’s important to stick to a bedtime routine, don’t stay in bed if you just can’t sleep. After about 20 restless minutes, get up and find something to do that’s not too stimulating. Once you start to feel tired again, head back to bed. If a worrisome issue is causing insomnia, make a note of it and then try to forget it until morning.

Don't Nap for Too Long

If your psoriasis symptoms keep you from getting the sleep you need at night, you may find that a short nap helps you get through the day. After 20 to 30 minutes of shut-eye, you may wake up feeling refreshed. Short naps can be okay, as long as they’re not close to bedtime. If you need one to catch up on sleep, do it long before the clock strikes 5 p.m. — and keep it short!

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