Arthritis causes sore joints, which can make it difficult to get enough good quality sleep. In fact, research suggests that as many as 80% of people with arthritis have trouble falling and/or staying asleep.
However, while sleep is a common cause of frustration among those with arthritis, there are a number of things that may help to improve your chances of getting more restorative sleep.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of nine tips for sleeping better with arthritis. We hope you find them useful.
What’s the link between arthritis and sleep?
Arthritis can make it difficult to get good quality sleep due to the pain and discomfort the condition causes. Some people struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position and others find that they’re woken up by bouts of joint pain.
Not only can this be frustrating, but getting enough sleep is also essential for our health – particularly when it comes to managing long-term health conditions like arthritis. This is because our body tissue grows and repairs itself during sleep, and our immune system strengthens.
Experts have revealed that the relationship between arthritis pain and poor sleep works both ways – just as arthritis pain can disrupt sleep, a lack of sleep can increase pain and impact the body’s ability to heal itself. So, it can be easy to find yourself in an unwanted cycle.
For example, this study found that sleep loss intensified pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, other research has also revealed that those with arthritis pain who have trouble sleeping are more likely to experience depression.
Therefore, it’s important to find ways to overcome the difficulties of sleeping with arthritis to better manage the condition and look after your overall health as much as possible.
9 tips for sleeping better with arthritis
Now that we’ve explored the link between arthritis and sleep, let’s take a look at some possible ways to increase your chances of getting more restorative rest…
1. Invest in a good quality mattress
One of the best things you can do to improve your sleep quality is to invest in a good quality mattress.
According to experts, if your mattress is too firm, it can place pressure on your back and neck, and lead to spine misalignment. Similarly, if a mattress is so soft that your body sinks into it, this can negatively affect posture and aggravate arthritis symptoms.
How old your mattress is can also play a role, because worn out springs are often unable to provide your body with the support it needs.
In this study, 60 people were asked to sleep on their old mattresses for one month, before sleeping on a new mattress the following month. During the second month, participants’ stress levels dropped significantly, which experts put down to a reduction in back pain and irritability that was caused by the old mattress.
For more information on what to look out for when it comes to your mattress, you might like to have a read of our article; 9 ways your mattress can affect health and how to choose the right mattress for you.
2. Find a comfortable sleeping position
A good sleeping position is one that supports the natural curvature of your spine – from your hips all the way to your head. That being said, what feels most comfortable for you will largely depend on which parts of your body are affected by arthritis pain.
For example, some people with arthritis of the knee find it beneficial to sleep on their back with a pillow placed beneath their knees; and for arthritis of the hip, it’s generally best to avoid sleeping sideways on the painful hip.
For more information on the pros and cons of different sleeping positions, check out our article; What are the best and worst sleeping positions? The Arthritis Foundation also offers specific advice on the best sleeping positions for different areas of arthritis pain – including arthritis of the neck, back, wrists, and hands.
3. Stay active
It’s normal to feel apprehensive about exercise if you have arthritis due to fear that it could exacerbate joint pain. But research has consistently shown that staying active is one of the best things you can do for your joints.
While high-impact forms of exercise like running and HIIT may place unnecessary stress on your joints, low-impact activities such as walking, yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi can actually improve arthritis symptoms.
For example, this study found that exercise reduced joint pain, morning stiffness, and fatigue in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Other research has found that people with arthritis who exercise regularly have improved sleep patterns, more energy, and better day-to-day function.
4. Consider using heat therapy before bed
Applying a heated compress is one of the oldest, cheapest, and most popular methods for relieving pain – and research has shown that heat treatments can be effective at relaxing stiff joints.
This is because when you warm up a sore joint or muscle, blood vessels in the area get bigger. Not only does this improve the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the area, but the improvement in circulation is also effective at relaxing joints.
As a result, some people find that easing a painful joint with a heating pad for around 15-20 minutes before bed helps them to sleep better. Amazon has a good range of arthritis heat pads available for you to browse. Alternatively, you can enjoy a soothing bath for a similar effect.
Just remember to allow your body time to cool down afterwards because it can be tricky to fall asleep when you’re too warm.
5. Find the right pillow for you
Making sure that your head and neck are in a comfortable position is key to getting good sleep with arthritis – and can also determine how your neck feels the following day.
It’s important to choose a pillow that supports your neck without tilting your head too far forward when lying on your back.
According to experts, the ideal pillow should just fill the space between your ear and the mattress. Similarly, if you’re a side sleeper, the pillow should support your head to be in line with your neck without tilting it too much up or down.
Some people who suffer from neck pain find that using extra pillows to support their arms at night makes sleeping more comfortable, and others prefer feather pillows – as these tend to be easier to mold into shape. That being said, everyone’s different, so it’s important to find what works for you.
For more guidance, you might find our article, 7 tips to help you choose the right pillow, useful. Or, for more arthritis-specific advice, Health and Care’s article on best arthritis pillows covers a variety of suitable options for both side and back sleepers.
6. Establish a bedtime routine
The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock, which, when properly aligned, helps to regulate consistent, high-quality sleeping patterns.
Establishing an effective bedtime routine can play a significant role in regulating your circadian rhythm, because our brains become attuned to recognise patterns and behaviours that signal when it’s time to sleep – for example, journaling, meditating, and winding down for bed away from electronics.
Bedtime routines have also been found to play a key role in reducing nighttime stress and anxiety which, when left unchecked, has been linked with an increased likelihood of insomnia.
You’ll find plenty of tips for establishing an effective nighttime routine in our article; How to design the perfect bedroom for sleep.
Or, if you’d like to learn more about how your internal body clock works and ways you can keep it in check, check out our article; Everything you need to know about melatonin and the circadian rhythm.
7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
Whether you have arthritis or not, general health advice warns that caffeine and alcohol can have negative impacts on sleep.
Caffeine is a stimulant, so having too much of it or drinking it too close to bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Studies have also found that it can throw the circadian rhythm out of sync. So, if you’re a coffee drinker, it’s worth experimenting with a cut off point during the day – for example, 3pm – to see if it improves your sleep. In addition, experts recommend drinking no more than four cups of brewed coffee per day.
Similarly, studies show that drinking large amounts of alcohol before bed may cause people to fall asleep faster but also increases the likelihood of poor sleep quality and disruption. There’s a reason why you often wake up feeling groggy after a drink!
Therefore, it can be helpful to limit your alcohol intake – particularly before bed. And in some cases where sleep quality is particularly bad, it might be worth eliminating it from your diet completely.
8. Take steps to manage stress
There’s a strong link between stress and arthritis. Research shows that the more stressed you are, the higher levels of inflammation in the body can become. Stress can also cause muscles to tense up, which can compound joint pain even further.
As a result, taking steps to manage your stress levels can make a world of difference to arthritis pain and sleep quality. This might mean practising deep breathing, exploring ways to connect with nature, or using distraction techniques.
9. Experiment with arthritis pain-relief products
Alongside lifestyle changes like establishing a nighttime routine and limiting coffee and alcohol intake, there are also a number of products available designed for arthritis pain and discomfort that may help you sleep better.
For example, some people with arthritis of the hand find that arthritis gloves help to manage pain. These work by applying gentle pressure to the hands to increase blood flow and hand temperature, which can help with discomfort. Arthritis gloves are available to buy on Amazon.
Adjustable beds are another option to consider. These have been found to be highly effective for relieving arthritis pain by helping to evenly distribute body weight and improve blood flow. While these products can be expensive, many people find them to be worth it. For more information, you might like to have a read of these four surprising ways adjustable beds can relieve arthritis from Willowbrook.
We also recently wrote an article on the potential benefits of CBD oil, which some studies have suggested may offer anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties that could benefit people with arthritis. However, further research is still needed to confirm these findings.
Arthritis can be uncomfortable and painful to live with, and be particularly frustrating when it gets in the way of sleep. However, while there’s no magic solution, we hope that some of these ideas may help you to get better, more restorative rest.
For further reading, head over to the sleep and fatigue and general health sections of our website. Here you’ll find content on everything from help with insomnia, to bone health and diet tips for healthy joints.