Arthritis pain and stiffness that is tolerable during the day may prevent you from getting good sleep at night. This is bad news, because poor sleep can cause pain to be worse—creating a frustrating cycle of pain and poor sleep.
If pain and stiffness from osteoarthritis are keeping you from falling asleep or staying asleep, try following these 9 tips:
1. Use heat therapy before bed
Ease a painful joint by using a heating pad for 15 to 20 minutes before bed. You can also take soothing bath for the same effect—just give your body a little time to cool down afterward, because it’s hard to get to sleep if you’re overheated.
2. Consider your mattress
A good mattress can make a big difference in your level of comfort and support as you sleep. If you have arthritis, your mattress should be supportive but not too hard. If you can’t invest in a new mattress right now, consider adding a mattress topper.
3. Use pillows strategically
How you use pillows can be just as important as your choice of mattress. If you have hip or knee arthritis and like to sleep on your side, you may benefit from a pillow between your knees. If you have shoulder arthritis you may be most comfortable using a wedge pillow and sleeping on your back.
4. Rule out sleep apnea
Being overweight increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis as well as a condition called sleep apnea, which causes sleep to be interrupted throughout the night. It’s possible to have sleep apnea and not know it. If you snore or wake up feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep, talk with your doctor about undergoing a sleep study.
5. Exercise and stretch
People who have arthritis are often hesitant to exercise because they’re afraid of making their pain worse.1,2 However, regular exercise tends to decrease joint pain and help maintain joints’ range of motion.3,4,5 Plus, people who exercise regularly tend to sleep better in general. If you’re unsure how to begin a safe exercise program, check with your doctor or physical therapist.
See Knee Stretches
6. Avoid eating after 9 PM
Eating at night is generally associated with poorer sleep.6,7 It is also associated with gastrointestinal reflux,8 which can worsen sleep quality even further. Try to stop eating 2 or 3 hours before bedtime to give your body time to digest.
7. Practice good sleep hygiene
Follow habits that promote good sleep, such as:
- Going to bed at the same time every night
- Establishing a night routine to prepare your mind and body for sleep
- Putting away phones, computers, TVs, e-readers, and other light-emitting devices an hour before bedtime
8. Start meditating
Regular meditation has two potential benefits: it may improve sleep9 and it may decrease chronic pain.10 There are many ways to meditate. You can sit or lie down. You can experience silence, repeat a word or sound, or try guided meditation, in which another person helps guide your meditative thoughts. Many phone apps, online videos, and DVDs offer recorded guided meditation.
9. Take a nighttime pain reliever
There are several types of over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers specifically intended to both relieve pain and help you sleep better.
Taking a medications daily can put you at greater risk for other health problems, so consider these only if other approaches for reducing pain and getting good sleep do not work. Also, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure your sleep aid does not interact with any other medications or supplements you take.
Remember: arthritis, chronic pain, and sleep problems are all treatable. If you’re struggling with poor sleep because of arthritis pain, make an appointment to see your doctor and explore solutions.