Getting restful sleep when you have arthritis pain can be a challenge. But it can be done! Find out what adjustments will help.
Joint pain may make it difficult for people with arthritis to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. According to rheumatologist Scott J. Zashin, MD, an associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, “Sleep problems are common in patients with arthritis pain caused by chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Patients may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to pain, anxiety, or both.”
Here are some eye-opening facts:
- About one-third of people who have pain while trying to sleep suffer from arthritis pain, according to a National Sleep Foundation Gallup Poll.
- According to a National Sleep Foundation “Sleep in America” poll, 72 percent of older Americans diagnosed with osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis experience problems sleeping.
- People with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes joint and muscle stiffness as well as arthritis-like pain, also have difficulty sleeping. For these individuals, nighttime arthritis pain and problems sleeping can be a vicious cycle, each aggravating the other.
The Cycle of Arthritis Pain and Sleep Difficulty
In a study of 30 healthy adults, researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles found that individuals who were kept awake from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. for one night had higher levels of several chemicals that contribute to inflammation in the morning, compared to adults whose sleep was not interrupted. Elevated levels of these chemicals are also found in patients with arthritis. These results provide a clue to the connection between arthritis pain and lack of sleep.
More Tips for Better Sleep
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) offers the following tips to get more restful shut-eye:
- Develop a regular sleep schedule and try to stick to it every day.
- Stay away from alcohol and caffeine from late afternoon on.
- Don’t exercise within three hours of going to bed.
- Don’t nap during the day.
- Use your bed only as a place to sleep; don’t use it for watching TV or working.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark.
- Don’t drink too many liquids or eat spicy food before going to bed.
- Incorporate relaxing activities into your routine (such as listening to music or soaking in a warm bath) before bedtime.
Zashin also recommends that patients with arthritis pain “talk to their doctor, as medications may help improve their sleep.”
Coping With Stress and Depression in Arthritis
The Arthritis Foundation recommends that patients with arthritis pain develop strategies to cope with stress as a way to improve their ability to sleep. For example, an osteoarthritis patient could try to identify sources of stress by keeping a stress diary. The patient could then try to make changes in situations that seem to routinely cause stress, and practice coping mechanisms, such as using support systems, exercise, and relaxation techniques.
Dr. Zashin notes, “Many patients with arthritis pain have depression, and this can cause patients to wake up earlier than they would like and not be able to fall back asleep.” He recommends that his patients get “daily aerobic exercise such as walking, biking, swimming, or running, [which] can help people with conditions like osteoarthritis obtain a good night’s sleep.”
A few final tips to keep in mind: Investigate the type of bed you are sleeping on; your mattress may be too firm — or it may not be firm enough. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting expert advice from an occupational therapist or physical therapist who specializes in treating arthritis. They can provide tips tailored to your specific situation to help you maximize your snooze time.