Inflammatory Arthritis

How to improve your sleep with arthritis

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Getting a good night's sleep can be difficult, even more so for those living with a chronic condition like arthritis.

When you are living with arthritis, you may find that your pain makes it nearly impossible to get a good night’s rest, but did you ever consider that the lack of sleep you are getting may also be causing you more pain?

This article will answer some commonly asked questions relating to sleep and arthritis, and will provide some practical tips on how you can improve your sleep. 

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be medical advice, but is simply meant to share information. Before making any changes, check with your doctor to make sure you are doing what is safe and best for you. 

How does arthritis impact one’s sleep?

There are various symptoms of arthritis that can impact one’s ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or have a restful sleep. Two main symptoms that we will discuss in this article are pain and stress. 

Have you ever tried to fall asleep while in significant pain? Alternatively, have you ever woken up and realised that you are now in pain from a lack of movement or swollen joints? These are common situations that people with arthritis find themselves in. A lack of proper sleep can then lead to bigger issues. 

What can a lack of sleep do to your body/health?

A lack of sleep can have many different effects on one’s health. As a whole, it can impact your mental health, memory, immune system, brain function, and many other things. Sleep is vital to one’s health, which is why if you are struggling with sleep, it should be a priority for you to work towards getting better sleep. Your doctor can help you figure out some ways to improve your sleep, and in this article we will outline some general tips for a better night’s sleep. 

Does arthritis pain get worse with less sleep?

Sleep, as a very essential and vital part of body function and development, is regulated by the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and the spinal cord. When someone is not getting enough sleep, or not getting the right type of sleep, they may find that their pain feels a lot worse. This could be because one’s threshold for pain is a lot lower when they haven’t gotten enough sleep. Also, it has been shown that when someone gets less sleep that their inflammatory markers increase, meaning the inflammation in their body increases. As people with arthritis experience pain from inflammation in their joints, this increase in inflammatory markers can worsen their already distressing symptoms. 

Is pain the only thing that causes poor sleep with arthritis?

Pain is only one reason as to why someone living with arthritis may experience poor sleep. Another reason is one’s mental health, including their stress, depression, anxiety, etc. all of which may or may not be a result of their condition. People who live with chronic diseases such as arthritis, where there is no ‘cure’, but only management plans, can often experience mental health issues like depression. This may be from the pain or fatigue that the condition causes, the side effects of medications taken, or general stress and sadness over having a long-term condition. If you ever feel like your are struggling with your mental health, reach out as soon as you can to your doctor so that they can help you get the help and care that you need (and deserve!).

Pain, stress and sleep are all interconnected. If your pain is bad, your stress may increase, and your sleep may decrease. If your stress is bad, your pain may increase and your sleep may decrease. When one is affected, the others are affected as well. On the brighter side, when your stress decreases, your pain may decrease – and your sleep may improve! Getting yourself to a place where you are better managing these things can significantly impact how you feel overall.

Top tips for improving your sleep with arthritis

1. Create a pain management plan

If you are struggling to sleep because of your joint pain, a good first step is to speak with your doctor about if there is any treatment or medication that may be suitable for you to help reduce your pain. There also may be things you can do at home like hot compresses and bottles that may bring you some relief to help you get to sleep (and hopefully stay asleep).

2. Practice good sleep hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene is important for everyone, but even more so for those who struggle regularly to get and stay asleep. There are many ways to practice good sleep hygiene, some including: sleeping at the same time each night, creating a peaceful bedroom environment and avoiding screens. Sleeping at the same time each night will help teach your body that at that time of the day, it is time to rest and go to sleep. This will make sleep more intuitive to you, and hopefully help you have an easier time falling asleep once it becomes a part of your regular routine. The environment in which you sleep is also very important. If your bedroom has a lot of noise, light, and if your bed isn’t comfortable to you, you will have a more difficult time falling asleep, and having a restful sleep. Try to make little changes in your environment to create a peaceful, dark environment that is ideal for rest at the end of the day. Of course, avoiding your phone or screens is vital to good sleep hygiene. Studies have shown that there is an association between using screens before bed and issues falling asleep, as well as a decrease in overall sleep time. One tip would be to stop using your screens as early as you can, before you start getting ready for bed.

3. Seek mental health support

If you feel like you are struggling to sleep due to your mental health, reach out immediately to your doctor. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and more often than not, one directly impacts the other. You deserve mental health support, and shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to get it. If you live in the UK and use the NHS, here is their page for mental health services that may be helpful to you. If you feel you are ever in an unsafe situation or are worried about yourself, do not hesitate to call 999 immediately. Remember: you are not alone.

4. Perform exercise in your day

You may have found that on days where you are more physically active, you sleep a bit better than you usually do. Exercise is a great way to get your body ready for bed at night, but it’s best to perform exercise during the day, at least 3 hours before bed, so that you don’t become too stimulated before you’re expected to wind down to sleep. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym, even one good walk in your day can help you get enough physical exertion to help you get sleepy later on.

5. Avoid stimulants after midday

This one is probably a bit more obvious, but avoiding things like caffeine will help you be more ready for sleep at the end of the day. If you do enjoy a coffee or a tea, it’s best to do so before 2/3pm. This will give you enough time before you sleep for it to no longer be giving you the energy buzz that it initially does. Be careful with decaffeinated drinks, as they often do still contain caffeine, and probably are best avoided in the evening as well.

We hope that this article helps provide you with some general information on the relationship between sleep and arthritis. If you are looking to make any significant changes to your lifestyle, diet, medications or general way of living, do consult your doctor beforehand. You can also ask your doctor for suggestions on how to achieve better sleep, if you are still struggling to do so.

If you have any questions about this article, or our My Arthritis app, please do email or and we are happy to chat with you.

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