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4 Ways To Sleep Better With HIV

Updated on December 27, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Barry S. Zingman, M.D.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

If you or a loved one with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are having ongoing sleep problems, you’re not alone. Research shows that up to 70 percent of individuals with HIV have trouble sleeping and that many people living with the condition need help to improve their sleep.

Consistent with the research, many myHIVteam members report having trouble falling or staying asleep. “I woke up at 2 a.m. again, but I fell asleep at 6 p.m. yesterday,” wrote one member. “I’m trying to get back on the normal sleep schedule, falling asleep at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m., but so far, I’m having no luck.”

Another myHIVteam member shared, “Been a pretty good day ... other than an ongoing issue of not being able to fall asleep when I want. I used to make sure I was in bed and ready to sleep no later than midnight, and I would fall asleep quickly. The last few weeks, I’ve been going to bed at the same time, yet I don’t fall asleep till three or four hours later, and then feel exhausted when I get up. I just want my normal sleep cycle back!”

When you have any type of chronic health condition, getting regular sleep can be difficult. Furthermore, people living with HIV may also have co-occurring sleep conditions, such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea. Your primary care doctor can screen you for these conditions, so be sure to communicate your concerns to your health care team at your next check-up or earlier.

Poor sleep can also affect your adherence to HIV treatments, your quality of life, and your productivity at work. If you’ve noticed such changes as a result of your disrupted sleep patterns, you may benefit from trying new strategies to help you get more rest.

Why Is Sleep Disturbance Common for People With HIV?

There are several reasons why people with HIV have sleep issues. HIV treatments such as antiretroviral therapy are sometimes associated with worse sleep. This may be a direct result of insomnia caused by the medication, which can resolve over time, or it may be from one or more other side effects from the drugs. Symptoms such as diarrhea, cough, and pain may keep you awake at night.

Additionally, there may be other, indirect reasons for sleep disturbance in people with HIV. For example, mental health issues like anxiety and depression are associated with having a chronic (ongoing) health condition. They can also cause trouble sleeping.

Whatever is causing your sleep troubles, there are steps you can take to help ease them. You can try many of these strategies at home. However, consult with your primary care physician if you continue to have trouble sleeping.

4 Ways To Get Better Rest

Research has shown that sleep hygiene is a critical factor in people with HIV being able to get a good night’s sleep. Positive sleep hygiene involves setting yourself up for a good night of sleep by taking steps to improve your sleep quality and duration. One good way to start is to avoid spending time in bed when you aren’t sleeping — that way, you’ll associate your bed with sleep. Continue reading to learn about four ways people with HIV can improve their sleep.

1. Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

To get your body in the habit of sleeping through the night for a set number of hours, try to go to bed at the same time each night, regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend. Going to bed and waking up on a routine schedule can help you get your sleep back on track.

Several myHIVteam members have recognized that maintaining a regular sleep schedule can be difficult. “I did not sleep well at all last night, and I would think about taking a nap, but my doctor told me that if I want to get back on a normal sleep schedule, not to take naps,” wrote one member.

You won’t always be able to follow a routine perfectly, but planning a sleep schedule is a great first step to getting better rest.

2. Focus on Relaxation

Being unable to fall asleep can be stressful and frustrating. “Cannot sleep tonight. Ugh,” wrote one myHIVteam member. “I’m tired, but not falling asleep.”

This is a common experience for many. The Sleep Foundation recommends focusing on relaxation and mindfulness rather than on the end goal of falling asleep. Some relaxation techniques you could use include diaphragmatic breathing, visualization exercises such as a body scan, or muscle-relaxation techniques.

Some methods work better than others, so listen to your body. What works well for someone else might not work for you and vice versa.

3. Optimize Your Bedroom

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend adjusting your bedroom to make it easier to get a good night’s sleep. Start with the mindset that your bed should be used only for sleep or sex. Avoid having easily accessible electronics because viewing screens can be detrimental to easing yourself into sleep. Keeping your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible at night will naturally make your body feel more ready to sleep. Pay close attention to the temperature of your bedroom, making sure it is not too hot or too cold but rather comfortably cool.

4. Ease Yourself Into Any Changes

When you’re making any major changes to your schedule, do so gradually. Be patient with yourself as you get adjusted. You may not feel motivated to go to bed early instead of staying up to work, watch TV, or socialize — especially when you’re having difficulty falling asleep.

Exercise can be beneficial for promoting sleep, but try to exercise four to six hours before bedtime. You might try taking a warm bath shortly before bed or having a light snack. Avoid consuming anything before bedtime that could disturb your sleep, such as a heavy meal, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, spicy foods, or chocolate.

It’s perfectly OK if you have off days. It’s most important to be as consistent as you can, have patience, and work up to your goals slowly and on your own timeline. If none of these interventions work, ask your doctor if a sleep aid might be a good idea. It’s important to weigh how any medications might interact with your HIV treatment plan.

Take the quiz: Are You Feeling Your Best With HIV?

Connect With Others Who Understand

You’re not alone with HIV. There are many supportive resources for people diagnosed with HIV and their loved ones, including the online community at myHIVteam. On myHIVteam, more than 36,000 members provide each other with continual social support, advice, and understanding.

How do you regulate your sleep schedule while managing HIV? Do you have any tips for others about getting better rest? Leave a comment below or start a conversation on myHIVteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Barry S. Zingman, M.D. specializes in HIV/AIDS medicine and general infectious disease. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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