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How To Sleep Better When You Have Osteoarthritis


There are few things worse than tackling a new day having not slept the night before. For those living with osteoarthritis it can be particularly frustrating as a vicious cycle takes hold.

Aching joints keep you up all night as you try and get comfortable and the lack of sleep exacerbates the pain you feel the next day. The cumulative effects can be a real test of your mettle. Trust us, we know…

According to Arthritis.org, 80% of people living with osteoarthritis endure sleep struggles. This could include struggling to get to sleep, waking up often during the night, waking up too early and not feeling refreshed after sleeping.

While we’d love to be able to share a one-size fits all solution, unfortunately, there’s no such thing. That said, there are a number of small tweaks that can be made to give yourself a better chance of a solid 40 winks.

-- Work on your sleep hygiene --

Before we examine areas that could alleviate sleep issues caused by osteoarthritis it’s always useful to brush up on your ‘sleep hygiene’. The following tips are all worth following in the quest to get the advised seven to eight hours kip a night:

Stick to a regular sleep schedule

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but a steady bedtime and morning routine helps to regulate your body clock.

Sleep in a cool, dark room

You might want to consider a set of blackout curtains or a blind, opening your window or investing in a fan.

Create a restful environment

Where you lay your head should be a peaceful and comfortable place, free of noise and distractions, including pets. If you've not changed your mattress for five years, it may be time to go shopping.

Say no to late night coffee and alcohol

A caffeine buzz before you rest your head is the last thing you need so stay away from coffee and energy drinks, while alcohol can impinge on the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. What’s more, alcohol is a diuretic which could cause nighttime lavatory trips.

Optimise your mealtimes

Consuming a large meal before bed can lead to poor sleep and hormone disruption. It's also best to avoid foods that don't always agree with you.

Turn off your devices

Ideally, you’d avoid any screen time two hours before you plan to sleep. The backlit 'blue light' displays suppress melatonin production – the hormone that helps you sleep.

Don’t force it

If you’re lying in bed awake for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a calm activity, like reading, until you’re feeling drowsy again.

Avoid naps

Napping may temporarily help alleviate any residual tiredness but it could also make it harder to get to sleep at night. Try and avoid resting your eyes, especially in the afternoon.

-- Tips if you have osteoarthritis --

We’ve written extensively about the best ways to manage your osteoarthritis on a day-to-day basis, including:

If you’re not familiar with the above, we definitely suggest you give them a read. Doing everything in your power to alleviate the symptoms of your osteoarthritis while you’re awake will give you the best chance of getting a peaceful night’s sleep. 

In addition to the above, we also suggest the following:

Use warm water before bed

Soaking in a warm bath for 20 minutes up to an hour before bed can be very helpful. Warm water helps blood flow to stiff muscles and joints which in turn reduces inflammation. Soaking also takes the pressure off your joints. Make sure the bath isn't too hot.

Relax your mind

Before bedtime, it is advisable to to wind down and prepare your mind and body for sleep. Try a few minutes of meditation, deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. By practising relaxing you learn how to let go of the stresses of the day. Think of it like training a muscle that gets stronger over time.

Tactical pillow usage

You should replace your pillows every two years (some reports suggest every six months) to ensure you have an adequate level of support for your head and neck. From a hygiene perspective, they should also be washed every few months to rid them of any dust mites. Pillows can also be used to support other joints. If you sleep on your back and have osteoarthritis in your knee, you could try placing a pillow under your knee to take the pressure off.

Exercise daily

It might not come naturally, especially if your osteoarthritis is playing up, but it will help on several levels. When you exercise - try these great arthritis friendly stretches - you release endorphins which interact with the receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Just make sure you do your exercise during the day as workouts increase your levels of adrenaline and stimulates brain activity. Both could make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Manage your mental health

According to the Arthritis Foundation, people with osteoarthritis face an increased risk of depression and depression can worsen their pain. A combination of pain and depression can then lead to sleep problems. We've already touched on the benefits to your mental health of regular exercise but many people also find it very helpful to talk to other people who are in a similar situation to them. As we always say on the Flexiseq blog, you're never alone with osteoarthritis. It's why we love these bloggers and their inspirational tales of the everyday. The NHS advises, "you may find support from a group or by talking individually to someone who has osteoarthrits." The Versus Arthritis helpline can be reached on 0800 5200 520 for free today (Monday–Friday, 9am–8pm).

You might also consider Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. As the NHS website explains, it's based on the concept that “your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle”. It's most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems. The highly structured nature of CBT means it can be provided in different formats, including in groups, self-help books and apps. You can learn more about CBT here.

Remember, if you're worried about your lack of sleep, you shouldn't forget to speak up. A chat with your doctor could help you identify what is causing your problem.