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News Letter

Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Arthritis Sufferers Can Take Steps to Reduce Sleep Deprivation Effects Print E-mail

Arthritis sufferers often don’t relate sleep deprivation effects to their disease. Awareness of the connection between arthritis and sleep deprivation and talking with your doctor may be the key to getting better sleep.

Insomnia creates a viscous cycle for arthritis patients.

  • When you don’t get enough sleep, the result is fatigue.
  • You may not feel like exercising. Lack of physical activity may contribute to sleeplessness.
  • Your aches and pain become magnified.
  • Lack of sleep, over time, may contribute to weight gain by altering the body’s metabolism. Weight gain may increase your arthritis pain.
  • Fatigue can be caused by rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic conditions.

According to one study, sleep deprivation is the No. 1 reason arthritis patients see a doctor, even more than pain or other problems related to their disease (“Study shows sleep disruption to be arthritis sufferers’ chief complaint,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, February 2000).

"We believe this unexpected finding is important because it’s not well recognized by either patients or physicians," said Joanne Jordan, M.D., in the February 2000 press release. "As a rheumatologist, I know that you can give patients all the anti-inflammatory drugs in the world to try to control their arthritis, but if you don’t take care of their sleep disruption, they may not get any better. Oftentimes, patients don’t tell doctors about it because they think nothing can be done to treat problems with sleeping."

Controlling Nighttime Pain

Arthritis sufferers may tolerate their achy joints all day, but seem to notice more discomfort at night. A key to restful sleep begins with pain management. Talk with your physician about your sleep problem. It’s possible a change in your evening dose of pain medication may help you sleep better. Some pain medications that cause drowsiness in certain patients may actually stimulate others. Pay close attention to your reaction to pain medications. Discuss them with your doctor and he or she may adjust your medications to help you sleep better.

Another problem sometimes associated with arthritis is “restless leg syndrome”. This condition causes discomfort when the legs are at rest, creating an urge to move the legs. This interferes with sleep. If you think you have restless leg syndrome, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. This is a treatable condition for many patients.

The Mind-Body Connection

In addition to physical pain interfering with sleep, anxiety from severe arthritis may contribute to the problem. Arthritis can lead to a sense of loss resulting in anxiety or depression that may affect healthy sleep habits. Talking with a counselor may help you cope. Ask your physician for a recommendation.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Talk about your problems with your doctor even if they are not arthritis specific.
  • Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow. Some arthritis sufferers prefer firmer mattresses. Others prefer a softer surface. Also, there are a variety of specialized contoured pillows. Experiment, and choose what works best for you.
  • Try bed linens and pajamas with silky materials. Smooth bedding helps you move under the covers and change positions comfortably.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol too close to bedtime.
  • Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. If you can’t get to sleep after 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing, such as reading or knitting.
  • Avoid reading, eating or watching TV in bed.
  • Get enough exercise during the day, but not late in the evening. Exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to relax your body and fall asleep.
  • Avoid naps during the day until you get into a healthful nighttime sleep pattern. Also, get up at the same time every morning.

There are many other ways to address sleep deprivation effects, depending on the combination of causes. Talking with your doctor is an important first step to improving your quality of sleep


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