It is natural to think that joint pain would keep you awake at night, and this certainly is considered a contributing factor as to why at least half of people suffering with osteoarthritis (OA) don’t sleep well. Research however also shows that the two conditions could in fact co-exist, with the quality of sleep actually affecting the symptoms of OA the next day by changing the way your body processes pain.
Osteoarthritis and insomnia
People with osteoarthritis frequently report that they find it hard to fall to sleep at night and to remain sleeping throughout the night without waking up.
Research shows that people suffering with OA of the hip or knee joint, are more likely to have insomnia than those people without this condition.
Insomnia can lead to all sorts of wider health and lifestyle issues, including:
- poor memory
- putting on weight from overeating
- lack of energy to perform routine tasks
- greater risk of sickness due to poor immune function
- daytime tiredness or sleepiness
- irritability, depression or anxiety
- lack of ability to pay attention or focus
- increased risk of errors and accidents
Insomnia can also affect the quality of your partner’s sleep too, giving them the same health risks.
It’s a serious issue that should not be brushed under the carpet with a hope it will improve, as often it doesn’t.
The sleep connection with osteoarthritis
If you are in pain before bed it may be more difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep; this is common with arthritis sufferers. Also it is common to wake in the night with a sudden pain, which makes having a good night’s sleep a problem.
A 2012 study investigated the correlation between pain and sleep, including people with osteoarthritis. Results showed that the pain experienced before bed didn’t necessarily have an impact on the quality of sleep.
However, a poor night’s sleep, did depict how severe pain symptoms were the following day.
Whilst there are many factors involved with sleep and pain, research is suggesting that the two conditions of OA and insomnia are complex and reciprocal, and may actually coexist.
Researchers now believe that insomnia may enhance the pain of arthritis by triggering inflammatory signals to the brain. This means that without sufficient sleep your body may be more sensitive to pain.
“Poor sleep can also make you more sensitive to the feeling of pain” Michael V. Vitiello, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Helping yourself to improve your sleep
Research also shows that people with osteoarthritis may have naturally bad habits when it comes to their sleep, this may include napping during the day, eating too much to compensate for lack of energy and maintaining an irregular sleep pattern.
Some simple ways to improve your sleep include:
- not eating a big meal close to bedtime
- cutting down on coffee and caffeinated drinks in the evening and afternoon, if possible
- not watching TV in the bedroom
- go to bed at the same time each night
- keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark
- practice some relaxation techniques before bed, like mediation
Seek treatment that will help your pain
It may be that you take medication to help manage your osteoarthritis symptoms, if prescribed by a doctor, however to rely on sleeping tablets in order to get a good night’s sleep is a slippery slope and doesn’t really tackle the cause of the issue.
A consultation with a specialist orthopaedic doctor will help to assess the extent of your osteoarthritis and enable you to explore real treatment options.
Surgery can be a solution for many with OA these days, as medical advances allow for excellent results to be achieved. Or, there may be another option that better suits your condition.