Although most people need about 7–8 hours of sleep each day, many people manage quite well with less and sleep is really only a problem if you’re not happy with the amount and quality you’re getting. However, unfortunately, all forms of arthritis can affect the way people sleep, especially if they cause pain that makes it uncomfortable to lie in bed.
Sleep problems in arthritis can take several different forms
For example, some people have trouble getting to sleep but then sleep through the night. Others wake frequently during the night or wake too early in the morning. Some people with arthritis don’t recall having disturbed sleep but don’t feel refreshed when they wake (non-restorative sleep). People with a severely disturbed sleep pattern may suffer from all these problems. If this persists for a long period, it can cause increased muscle tension and can be associated with muscular pain.
Link between sleep and arthritis pain
Sleep disturbance may lower your pain threshold. This could lead to:
- Increased pain from an already painful condition
- Pain from a condition that hadn’t previously been painful
- Pain that was previously felt only in a particular part of the body (localized pain) becoming more widespread
For example, people with fibromyalgia have generalized pain and stiffness, along with sleep disturbance and fatigue. Although it’s likely that the fatigue is caused by a poor sleep pattern, it’s also possible that pain and stiffness may be caused by sleep disturbance.
How arthritis can affect your sleep?
Sleep and back pain
Back pain or neck pain can cause problems getting to sleep or waking during the night. Using a pillow or mattress that is too soft or too firm and that doesn’t give adequate support can make these problems worse.
Sleep and osteoarthritis
Pain from osteoarthritis happens mostly when the joints are being moved but it can sometimes cause problems at night as well – this quite often happens with osteoarthritis of the hip.
Sleep and rheumatoid arthritis
People with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to suffer disturbed sleep than people of a similar age who don’t have arthritis. Sleep disturbance is usually worse when the pain is worse and is also linked to increased anxiety and depression, as well as morning stiffness and fatigue.
How to improve your sleep in arthritis?
- Avoid sleeping during the day because this can make it more difficult to get to sleep at night.
- Avoid caffeine – for example in tea, coffee and chocolate – after midday.
- Eat sensibly to prevent feeling hungry during the night but avoid eating and drinking large amounts just before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking alcohol if you experience significant sleep disturbance as it may affect your sleep.
- Don’t smoke before bedtime or during the night.
- Take regular exercise during the day, but not within 3 hours of going to bed.
- Try not to use your bedroom for what may be stimulating activities, for example watching television, working or eating.
- Try to establish a relaxing routine and go to bed at the same time every day, ideally when you’re sleepy.