My kingdom for a good night’s sleep. By Dr. Carolyn Golz

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Dr. Carolyn Golz is a College Administrative Officer for Cowell & Stevenson Colleges at UC Santa Cruz. Carolyn loves her dogs, her bike,  and her new life in California. She can be found on twitter at: @CarolynGolz

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When editing a friend’s blog post about wellness last year, I suggested that she

strike a statement that said something along the lines of “healthy people do not need

to nap in the middle of the day”. I told her that this statement might offend some and

that I considered myself a healthy person, yet I would LOVE to take a nap every day.

I am perpetually tired. I go to bed by 9:30 each night and have difficulty waking up

when my alarm goes off at 6:45 each morning. This has been my life for as long as

I can remember and while I “knew” in the back of my mind that it probably meant

something was wrong, I often attributed it to living in a cold, dark climate (seasonal

affective disorder is real) or being a light sleeper and constantly being awoken by

dogs barking or moving around in the house. Or, on my really stubborn days, I called

myself a “champion sleeper”. In my need for perpetual competition, that makes my

sleeping abilities a good thing, right?

 

I now know that my constant state of exhaustion is more likely than not a

symptom of an autoimmune disorder. After an entire battery of tests – which

started as an attempt to resolve recurring inflammation in my eye – it has now

become clear that I have been suffering from the effects of spondylitis (inflammation

of the spine) that is likely ankylosing spondylitis, and also rheumatoid arthritis.

Together, these two diagnoses explain the lower back pain that I have experienced

since college (which was previously diagnosed as being the result of wearing

high heels for too many years) – pain so bad that I often wake up in the morning

feeling like my back is broken and the only thing that makes it better is exercise

and stretching. These diagnoses also explain the considerable exhaustion I feel at

the end of the workday, even though I would not describe the day as having been

particularly hard or taxing. And, rheumatoid arthritis now explains the reason my

hands hurt – shaking hands can be painful, my joints feel weak, and opening jars or

bottles can sometimes feel impossible.

 

The internet is a scary place and Googling both diseases tells me that, left untreated,

both ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to joint deformities

and/or bone fusion. In either case, the end result can be limited mobility. My

rheumatologist is still exploring treatment options that will resolve my pain

and fatigue. However, one thing is clear: the best medicine is exercise and good

nutrition. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for relieving stress on joints

and will help to maintain movement in my joints. I’ve neglected this area in the last

few years as a doctoral student. I’ve gotten stuck in a vicious cycle: I’m tired so I

struggle to get up to work out. But, because I’m not working out, I hurt. And, because

I hurt, I don’t sleep well, which means that I’m tired. I have to break the cycle and

get back to doing the things that I know will make a difference in how I feel.

 

I’m approaching my 40th birthday in November and I’ve decided that this needs to

be the year that I focus on my health and wellness. Wellness means more than just

physical health, but for me, my physical health is the area that needs the most focus

in the coming years. What area of wellness needs the most focus in your life? How

will you focus on being well in the coming year?

 

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