How Osteoarthritis Affects Your Sleep Cycle

Contending with the aches and pains of OA can make it tough to get enough sleep.

How Osteoarthritis Affects Your Sleep Cycle

By Sleep Connect Staff Published at May 2, 2016 Views 1,413 Comments 3

Contending with the aches and pains of osteoarthritis (OA) can make it tough to get enough sleep. And related emotional issues could make things worse. Because of these challenges, many people with OA struggle with a variety of sleep disorders. For example, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research and reported on PubMed, nearly 37 percent of participants who had osteoarthritis experienced insomnia.

As part of managing your osteoarthritis, it's important to understand how your sleep cycle is being disturbed and what you can do to get a good night's rest.

Trouble lying still

According to Arthritis Research UK, people with osteoarthritis often struggle to go to sleep simply because they can't get comfortable. Pain in the ankles, legs, hips, back, or neck can make finding a good sleep position next to impossible. Even if you do, the slightest tossing or turning in your sleep could bring back the pain. Osteoarthritis also often causes stiffness in the morning. Pain may wake you up before you’ve had enough sleep, and then stiffness could make it hard to get out of bed. That could further a vicious cycle of insomnia and discomfort.

Connecting OA and insomnia

It's easy to see that OA is linked to insomnia. But just how deep does the relationship between the two conditions go? To find out, researcher Michael V. Vitiello launched a study of the sleep cycles of those with chronic pain. Vitiello—who published his work in the journal Sleep—found something important. In a presentation on the website menopause.org, he says rather than being two distinct ailments, there may be significant overlap between OA and insomnia. Not sleeping can increase inflammation, which in turn will worsen OA pain. Plus, a lack of sleep can make people more sensitive to pain and thus alter their perceptions. Understanding the connection between OA and insomnia is vital to properly treat both conditions.

Nearly 37 percent of people with OA experience insomnia.

A matter of emotions

Other research suggests that insomnia in OA patients may not only be the result of pain. It could also be an expression of empathy for one’s sleeping partner. In 2013, researcher Lynn Martire from Penn State University studied the sleep patterns of spouses of 138 people who had knee osteoarthritis. In results reported by PubMed, many participants said their own sleep was disturbed when their spouse experienced OA pain in the night. Martire noted that this dynamic could make the person living with OA feel responsible, and thus sleep less soundly.

Get better sleep now

Taking daily naps can help combat insomnia.

There are ways to get enough sleep while dealing with OA pain. Everyday Health suggests trying a new mattress and using lumbar and cervical pillows for extra cushioning and support. The website Arthritis-health posed the idea of taking a brief nap during the day. Ten to twenty minutes of sleep early in the afternoon can rejuvenate you without disturbing your nighttime sleep.

Consult your doctor for more suggestions. And ask whether any medications you take may be interfering with your sleep. Sweet dreams!

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