7 Tips To Get A Good Night's Sleep When You Have Arthritis
Struggling to get a good night's sleep? Studies have shown that a whopping 80% of people with arthritis find it hard to nod off at night, so if you’re reading this with sore, bleary eyes you’re not alone.
It’s really frustrating when your chronic pain makes it hard to fall and stay asleep, but there are things you can do to make the process easier.
We spoke to Dr Wendy Holden, consultant rheumatologist and medical adviser for Arthritis Action, for her 7 tips on getting a good night's sleep when you have arthritis.
How can chronic pain affect sleep?
“Having any painful condition can get people down over time, especially with a long-term condition like arthritis,” says Dr Wendy. “Pain can lead to poor sleep quality, meaning that people wake frequently at night and do not get the deep restorative sleep that we all need to wake up feeling refreshed. This contributes to fatigue and low mood, both of which can then increase levels of pain.
“The pain can stop us from getting to sleep quickly, and being sleep deprived and tired can also contribute to low mood and anxiety. Having to consistently take regular drugs which may have side effects can also get people down, perpetuating this cycle.”
Don’t just lie awake in the dark
“Many people with arthritis struggle to get to sleep because of pain from arthritis,” says Dr Wendy. “Sometimes the pain of lying on an affected joint or turning over at night can cause a disturbed night or result in poor sleep quality, while worries about pain and being sleepless can make the problem even worse.”
The more you stress about how you’re not sleeping and stare at the clock counting the hours until you have to get up, the harder it will be to get the night's sleep that you need. Sometimes, it’s best to call it quits for a bit and accept that you’re awake.
“If you lie sleepless in bed for more than about 20 minutes, evidence shows that you will fall back to sleep more quickly if you get up and sit quietly for a while until you feel sleepy again and then go back to bed,” says Dr Wendy.
Why not keep a good book next to your bed? Scrolling through your phone may make it harder to fall asleep, but reading a good old fashioned book can help distract you - and you may soon find that you can’t keep your eyes open anymore!
We all know that drinking a double espresso before bedtime is a bad idea, but tea, alcohol and sugar can also make it harder to fall asleep.
“Try to avoid stimulants during the day such as caffeine, and don’t make the mistake of drinking alcohol just to make you sleepy,” says Dr Wendy. “Alcohol affects sleep quality and will make you feel worse in the long run.”
It’s also a good idea to avoid heavy meals before bedtime, as this can lead to indigestion and heartburn.
Make sure your bed (or your partner) isn’t making sleep more difficult
“In terms of a bed, mattress or pillow, it’s very much a matter of individual preference,’ says Dr Wendy. “However, if you have slept in a different bed, for example, when on holiday and found that you have had a more comfortable night, it would be a good idea to explore a firmer or softer pillow or mattress and make sure that you try these out where possible before buying.”
Sleeping with a partner is great, but they can sometimes make it harder to sleep - especially if they snore! “If you have a restless or noisy partner in bed who disturbs your sleep, it might be worth trying earplugs, a bigger bed or a mattress that doesn’t transmit their movements in the night, or perhaps try an occasional night sleeping apart where possible,” says Dr Wendy.
Establish a routine
“Try to have a bedtime winding down routine to let your body and mind know that it’s time to rest,” says Dr Wendy, “one of the most helpful ways of improving sleep quality can be to develop a good routine and to stick to it. An occasional late night or early morning won’t hurt, but setting a regular time for going to bed and getting up - even on weekends, or if you have had a sleepless night - can really help.”
Our bodies like repetition, which is why when you’re used to getting up at a certain time you may find yourself waking up sooner than you’d like on your day off! It’s a good idea to establish a realistic bedtime that you can stick to, so your body starts letting you know it’s ready for bed without you having to force it.
Avoid using screens before bed
"Some content on electronic devices - such as games, social media or television in the bedroom at night - may cause alertness and therefore affect sleep. Trying to avoid looking at these may be a good idea," says Dr Wendy. "Getting some sunlight during the day, even just for a few minutes, can also help improve sleep quality that evening.”
It’s not a good idea to get really into a new Netflix show or start scrolling through social media when you should be sleeping, so maybe try putting your devices away and not checking them till morning. Many phones have a ‘night time’ option where you can input the time you want to go to sleep and wake up and your phone will be on ‘do not disturb mode’ during your sleep hours.
During these cold nights, you may want to wrap up as warm as possible. However, this can make you overheat which can be uncomfortable and make it harder to sleep.
“Keeping cool at night can really help sleep quality, so lightweight bedclothes are useful in this regard,” says Dr. Wendy.
Try these stress-reducing techniques
Stress can make it harder to sleep, as it can make you feel more awake and contribute to racing thoughts. Self-help tips like taking a warm, relaxing bath, doing some gentle yoga and finding a calming distraction - like a sleepy podcast or a sleep playlist - can really help.
“You can try some gentle stretching, breathing, mindfulness or meditation to try and help your brain relax before bedtime,” says Dr Wendy. “Listening to white noise, a dull radio channel or a calming audiobook can also help.”
How do you fall asleep when you’re dealing with arthritis pain? Let us know on Facebook!