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Many patients with arthritis find themselves unable to go to sleep. Here are eight tips to help you achieve better sleep if you are one of them.

Arthritis is a chronic, systemic disease that can affect various joints in the body. Patients with arthritis often have a difficult time going to sleep. This causes them to toss and turn, which increases their perception of pain. The relationship between pain and sleep is a well-known one.

The less sleep a person gets and the poorer their quality of sleep is, the more pain they will find themselves in. Thus, if people with arthritis are able to improve their sleep quality and duration, it can have a significant positive impact their quality of life. The question is — how?

1. Do not try to go to sleep with joint pain

If you try to go to sleep while you are in the midst of joint pain, you are going to have a lot of trouble sleeping. Therefore, it is important you manage your arthritis pain by:

  • Arranging your medication schedule so you feel relief around bedtime.
  • Avoiding physical activities (such as exercise) that can cause joint pain before you go to bed.
  • Additionally, if there are certain things that ease your pain and allow you to better sleep, such as taking a hot shower, using an electric blanket or adding a heat pack or cold pack to the joint, then do so before you go to sleep.

2. Do not drink stimulant beverages right before bed time

It is well known that consuming caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and tea, can cause people to have trouble sleeping. Thus, definitely stay away from drinking coffee or tea at this time. However, there are also less well-known sources of caffeine, such as colas or pain-relievers, that can also interfere with good sleep. Instead of drinking coffee, black tea or cola, you can try drinking herbal teas, which actually help people sleep. Additionally, consuming alcohol can help people sleep but it comes at a cost of lower sleep quality if you drink too much.

3. Try to avoid stressors before going to sleep

It is impossible to avoid all types of stress in everyday life, however, while you can’t eliminate stress, you can work on avoiding right before bedtime. For example, if you find watching TV shows or the news or paying bills stressful, try do these during the day. Before you go to bed, try instead to do something that’s calming for you — such as reading a book or listening to music. Meditation also helps keeps stress at bay.

4. Exercise during the day

It is no secret that exercise is vital for living a healthy life. One of the hidden benefits of exercise is that when you strengthen your muscles or joints through physical activity, it actually makes you tired enough to go to sleep. Furthermore, exercise eases stress and helps promote a proper and restful sleep. While it may not be easy to be active when you have arthritis, try doing activities such as swimming, walking or water aerobics, which are easier on the joints but are still good sources of exercise. It is best to exercise early in the day as exercising in the night can be a stimulant and keep you up at night.

5. Reserve your room for sleep

Keep you room as a sanctuary in which you only sleep. Do not watch TV or work on your computer in your room or in bed. This can significantly affect the quality of your sleep. Instead, retire to your room when you are ready to go to bed and try not to do any stimulating activities beforehand. Use heavy curtains that can help remove any distracting light and use ear plugs if you live in a noisy area and are distracted by sounds. Try your best to create the most calming environment possible to help induce sleep.

6. Have the most comfortable bed possible

A medium-firm mattress is the best for patients with lower back pain. For patients with knee pain, you should position your pillow under or between your knees as it can reduce some pressure off your joints. Furthermore, putting a small pillow under the neck can make your spine more aligned and prevent neck pain during your sleep. You should experiment with a number of different ways to find out what is most comfortable for you.

7. Don’t stay in bed after you wake up

While it may sound counterintuitive, staying in bed in the morning after you wake up actually leads to poorer sleep. In order to treat insomnia, many doctors like to restrict the amount of time that patients can stay in bed upon waking up. This ensures that when you eventually go to bed that night, you will be sleepy enough to fall asleep relatively quickly.

8. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep

If you are in bed at night for more 15 minutes but are unable to go to sleep, don’t stay in bed. Instead, get up and do an activity that is not very stimulating (no watching TV). Once you feel sleepy again, then you can try going to sleep once more. This way, you won’t associate your bed with feeling restless, which, over time, will allow you to associate your bed strictly with sleeping.

  • Nicassio, Perry M., and Kenneth A. Wallston. "Longitudinal relationships among pain, sleep problems, and depression in rheumatoid arthritis." Journal of abnormal psychology 101.3 (1992): 514.
  • Bloom, Bradley J., et al. "Sleep and its relationship to pain, dysfunction, and disease activity in juvenile rheumatoid arthritis." The Journal of rheumatology 29.1 (2002): 169-173.
  • Mahowald, Mark W., et al. "Sleep fragmentation in rheumatoid arthritis." Arthritis & Rheumatism: Official Journal of the American College of Rheumatology 32.8 (1989): 974-983.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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