A woman sleeping in bed, laying on her back.

15 Tips for Sleeping Well with Arthritis

How to Sleep with Arthritis

Many people have trouble getting to sleep with arthritis, struggle with staying asleep and waking up early, and their sleep tends to be lighter, restless and unrefreshing.

As people age, they tend to spend more of their sleeping hours in the lighter phases of sleep, which means they are more likely to be disrupted by the pain and discomfort of arthritis. While the pain of arthritis is a factor in poor sleep, it is not the only cause.

Tips for Getting Better Sleep

One of the easiest ways to start getting a better night's rest is to make adjustments to your daily lifestyle and living habits.

  1. Avoid caffeine (in tea, coffee and soft drinks, especially after midday).
  2. Do not eat a large meal within three hours of going to bed.
  3. Avoid nicotine before bed.
  4. Wear blue light blocking glasses if using devices before going to sleep.
  5. Avoid alcohol before bed; it might make you sleepy but the quality of sleep is worse.
  6. Do not exercise before bed.
  7. Avoid napping during the day.
  8. Create a relaxing bedtime routine, and do your best to go to sleep at the same time every day.
  9. Keep the bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
  10. Try sleeping in different positions such as on your back versus on your stomach.
  11. Upgrade your mattress, pillow or bedding. Some people are more comfortable sleeping on different materials, such natural materials like organic cotton, silk pillowcases or memory foam. Find what works best for you.
  12. Avoid watching television, using your phone or tablet, or working in the bedroom.
  13. Try taking a bath before bed to relax your body.
  14. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes get up and go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
  15. Get adequate light exposure during the day.

It may help to create a sleep diary. Recording your sleep patterns and what factors have helped and hindered you getting to sleep and staying asleep will help create healthy habits. Using a fitness tracker with a sleep recording device may also help you understand the quality of the sleep you're getting.

Medication and Sleep

If medication is keeping you awake, you might need to talk to your doctor about altering your medications or the time of day you take them.

While sleep medications can assist, they do have side effects. They also don't address the underlying causes of sleep disturbance, which can lead to reliance on sleep medication. Lifestyle modifications and non-medication therapies have been shown to help.

Research has shown pain killers are not necessarily the answer to disturbed sleep. For some reason, insomnia and arthritis often just co-exist. Medications given for arthritis may also be making sleep difficult. Cortisone, for example, can cause insomnia and, while some painkillers may make you drowsy, they may make you fall asleep during the day, which can then make it difficult to fall asleep at night.

Techniques to Help Get a Better Sleep

There are some specific techniques shown to help with sleep:

  • Yoga – Involves stretching, strengthening, balancing, breathing exercises and meditation. Yoga may help with sleep by reducing joint stiffness and promoting relaxation.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Involves training the mind to change from negative unhelpful thinking to more positive useful thought patterns. Examples include changing the bedtime routine and counteracting negative thoughts in the evening. CBT is taught by psychologists and there are online courses where you can learn techniques.
  • Relaxation techniques – Relaxation exercises include deep breathing, controlled and timed breathing, mindfulness meditation, tai chi and activities that focus the mind in the present. Relaxation can help calm the mind prior to bed. It can also help relax any stiff and aching muscles.
  • Daily exercise – Gentle daily exercise can help. It can make you feel more fatigued at the end of the day, which can help with sleepiness. 20 minutes every day is good and can be spaced in two 10-minute segments. Low-impact exercises, such as walking, cycling or water aerobics are good.
  • Medication - If sleep is very difficult, medication may be needed. Doctors may prescribe painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications, sedatives or certain antidepressants that can have sedative effects. The type of medication will likely depend on the precise reason you are having trouble sleeping and must also take into consideration other medications you might be on.

Final Notes

Whatever the cause, improving sleep is important. Research indicates that the sleep deprivation amplifies the pain of arthritis and a bad night’s sleep is linked to worse arthritis pain the next day. The deep stages of sleep are also when the body releases hormones to repair muscle damaged during the day. Disrupted sleep can also affects other aspects of life, causing fatigue, thinking problems, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, headaches and disturbed mood.

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