As many as 80% of people with arthritis or osteoarthritis have difficulty sleeping. The pain can be so severe that it is impossible to fall asleep or stay asleep. The next day the tiredness adds to the depressed feelings and leaves you less able to defend against the pain. It may feel like a vicious circle of pain, restlessness, exhaustion and more pain.
A Lack of Sleep Makes The Pain Worse
There are several reasons why arthritis sufferers are likely to sleep badly:
- Cortisol levels are lower at night, and cortisol is the hormone that helps battle inflammation
- When we lie down the inflammatory chemicals will gather in the fluid that cushions our joints, which makes them stiffen up
- Our perception of pain can be heightened during the night because we’re not distracted by anything else.
It may be difficult to achieve, but we each have to find what works to help us get the rest we need. If you toss and turn through the night then take a look at these simple tips as they might help you sleep better, reduce the pain’s intensity, and improve your overall health.
The top tips for getting a good night’s sleep with arthritis.
1. Make your bed comfortable
A good pillow is the key to comfort. High quality orthopaedic cushions and pillows can provide support for the neck and ensure the spine is held in the correct alignment.
You can also support the neck by placing a small foam neck roll at the base of the neck when lying down. This helps keep the neck as straight as possible sleep and encourages a relaxed and natural alignment of the spine.
Bad bedtime rheumatoid arthritis flares can benefit from a wedge pillow behind the shoulders or a support pillow under your knees.
2. Keep the bedroom cool
Heat can help loosen joints and reduce the pain caused by arthritis. But too much heat at night, especially through the summer months, can add to your restlessness and keep you awake. Keeping a window open and the door ajar can help ventilate the bedroom. And when very hot you may want to apply a cold pack to your neck and wrists.
3. Get the right gear
Hands are a major sore spot for arthritis sufferers. Wearing compression gloves at night can reduce the throbbing pain and help keep fingers flexible and supported while you sleep.
A more expensive option, but one you might think is worthwhile, is a good high risk profiling memory foam mattress that is designed to relieve pressure across the body. It might be the difference between sleeping in one-hour stretches or being comfortable enough to sleep all night.
4. Keep a regular schedule
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. Naps can be good but keep them to between 10-20mins and early afternoon. Most of us need between six and eight hours of sleep each night and establishing a consistent routine will help you sleep longer and improve the quality of your slumber.
5. Keep a sleep diary
Keep tabs on your bedtime habits for a few weeks. Write down what time you went to bed and got up. Note what you ate, or drank towards bedtime; were you watching TV, or reading, or online shopping for instance? Maybe you had a walk or did some mildly strenuous housework? Keeping a note will help you see patterns that can lead to choices in behaviour that improve your sleep.
6. Try to relax, not to sleep
Try a relaxation technique such as visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Even though it’s not a replacement for sleep, relaxation can still help rejuvenate your body.
7. Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity
If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens so as not to cue your body that it’s time to wake up.
8. Postpone worrying
If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve.
9. Get daily exercise
Exercise may be the last thing you want to do in the middle of a painful flare. However, if you can manage some form of movement it can help improve the quality and length of your sleep. It’s best to build frequent periods of low stress exercise into each day so it becomes a habit you might maintain even when at your lowest due to pain. You don’t have to go to the gym or do 10 lengths of the swimming pool; a couple of 5 minute tours of the garden or a couple laps of the living room can be enough. You don’t want to exhaust yourself but a little exercise can help you sleep better.
Of course, if you are of a mind to get more serious with your exercise then you will need some proper fitness and exercise equipment. You can see Live Well Now’s range of equipment here.
10. What to avoid (and what to take)
Of course, it goes without saying that you should definitely avoid the obvious stimulants of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, computer screens and TV before going to bed.
You may be receiving medication to help reduce inflammation in the joints, to relieve pain, and to prevent or slow down joint damage. But you should also consider some natural remedies including night creams and massage oils.