Pain from arthritis certainly tends to cause sleep issues, and poor sleep can make arthritis even worse. Many researchers have shown that better sleep reduces arthritis pain both during the night and during the day. The torturous cycle of bad sleep and chronic pain can be overwhelming, but taking a different approach to the way you prepare for sleep can help reduce arthritic pain and improve overall quality of life. Since arthritis causes inflammation and soreness, it can hinder your ability to relax into sleep. And when you wake up with stiffness and achiness in your joints, this leaves you feeling tired and worn out - despite any sleep that you managed to enjoy.
The key to easing these symptoms resides in a pleasurable pre-bedtime routine. Here are some fantastic ideas to help you begin your journey to adequate and restorative sleep, even while living with arthritis. It’s necessary to keep an open mind when experimenting with these methods, as old sleeping habits die-hard. You may not even notice changes in your sleeping routine at first, and it may take some practice and patience, but trying new things is better than repeating the same sleepless, pain-filled night over and over and over again.
Here are 10 ways to get a better night’s rest while dealing with arthritis.
Body Position and Elevation
Depending upon where you feel the most pain and discomfort, you can position your body and extremities in a way that sets you up for a better night’s sleep. If you experience inflammation in the knees, legs, or feet, elevate these areas with a soft, but firm pillow. This will help decrease the inflammation. If you have poor circulation in your lower extremities, elevating your arms or torso too will allow for more blood flow. The same goes for the upper body. The idea is to position yourself for better circulation when experiencing stiffness and soreness, and to decrease blood flow when experiencing inflammation. Small pillows and other pads help you find your ‘goldilocks’ position. You’ll have to try out a few positions before you find the one that’s just right. The trouble for most people experiencing arthritis is that the pain can move around to other areas, so you’ll need to know which areas to elevate. Supporting the arms and legs can also take added pressure off your joints; they don’t even need to be elevated, just supported.
Avoid Pre-Sleep Distractions
The room and bed you sleep on should be your sanctuary, designed for sleep and rest. This means you should keep from watching TV, playing on your phone/tablet, or other devices like this. Some intriguing research shows a correlation between using your phone before sleeping and sleep disorders at night. The same goes for any electronic device, really. Not only are the blue screens bad for your eyes while in the dark, but the added distraction can also stimulate the brain when it needs to be winding down for sleep. Researchers have found that these glowing lights prevent the release of melatonin, a natural chemical that causes drowsiness. Those who ABSOLUTELY must watch TV before bed are encouraged to watch peaceful, non-violent programs, and avoid anything overly stimulating because what you see right before you go to bed may disturb your sleep and cause nightmares. The best activity seems to be reading before sleep. However, keep in mind that thrillers and the like might keep you up all night trying to solve the case!
Relaxing Bath or Shower
Even if you’re used to taking showers in the morning, a hot shower or bath 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime can work wonders for sleep. Not only is it a nice way to release the stress of the day, but also the heat from the water is a hydrotherapy session for your muscles, bone, and joints. A bath allows your joints to soak longer and helps take the pressure off, but even a short, hot shower can help you get the rest your body requires to fall to sleep. You can even add relaxing aromatherapy oils to your bath to further relieve stress. The best aromatherapy oils for this are lavender, jasmine, lemon, bergamot, clary sage, and ylang ylang. You can add these oils to bath water, or if taking a shower, you can pour several drops onto the shower floor.
Heating Blanket and Pads
While taking a hot shower is a great way to get a little heat therapy before sleep, it doesn’t have to stop there. Heating pads and blankets are a great way to sooth stiff and swollen joints before dozing off. Heating blankets and heating pads help millions of people sleep with arthritis every night, and most of these products are reasonably priced.
Watch Your Caffeine Intake
If you’re a big coffee drinker or enjoy energy drinks, keep an eye on caffeine intake. Stop after 2 coffees, and then switch to decaf or herbal teas. With arthritis pain, the longer your mind is awake, the longer the pain can keep you from sleeping, and vice versa. It takes time for your body to eliminate the caffeine from your system so it can have effects on your body for as long as 8 hours after drinking a caffeinated beverage. If you think caffeine may be part of the problem, consider cutting back on your caffeinated beverages, and don’t consume any at all after midday. This might sound simple, but in today’s over-caffeinated world, you should be mindful when it comes to the cups of Joe.
The Wonderful World of Ice
Just as applying heat relieves soreness and stiffness in the joints, cold therapy can also help reduce inflammation caused by arthritis. This kind of inflammation happens when the cartilage around the joint is damaged and breaks down. It can cause great pain, and sometimes even burning sensations. Ice can help remedy this pain, allowing for better rest at night. Use ice packs BEFORE you fall asleep in bed, and remove it from bare skin before dozing off. Also make sure to wrap the ice in a towel or something; you do not want to apply it directly to the skin, as it can be uncomfortably cold. Applying cold therapy on the joints before bedtime can help prevent them from becoming stiff upon waking.
Maybe you had a small dinner, or maybe you’re just bored, but that midnight snack might very well be disturbing your sleep. It’s bad enough to experience arthritis pain while you're trying to catch some Z’s, but eating before bedtime might be making it all even worse. Eating makes our bodies think that it is time to start burning energy and digesting what we’ve eaten. This sends the body mixed messages while preparing for sleep. All this can cause disruptions in the various stages of sleep, leading to nightmares and bad dreams, and even stomach discomfort. Even the healthiest of snacks can hinder your body as it prepares for sleep. Your best bet is to swap out the snacks for decaffeinated tea, especially ones made with chamomile, valerian root, or lavender.
Check Your Mattress
You spend nearly 1/3 of your life on your mattress, so choose one of the best. Finding a mattress that suits your needs isn’t always easy. Whether you sleep on your side or your back, your body needs to be properly supported, especially when dealing with arthritis pain. There are medical specialists who can help you decide what kind of mattress is right for you. While some mattresses may be pricey, consider it a worthy investment for your health. The right mattress can do wonders for your sleep.
Natural Sleeping Aids
Before reaching for an over-the-counter sleep aid, consider more natural alternatives. Chamomile and valerian root make great teas that you can drink before bedtime. They won’t cause drowsiness the next morning, and they promote relaxation, ease tension in the muscles, and gently guide you into slumber. Other natural methods might involve taking St. John’s Wort or even melatonin; both help ease muscle tension and promote relaxation. Before you begin taking melatonin in the pill form, consider getting your melatonin naturally from cherries or bananas. The sun also provides Vitamin D and helps process melatonin in the body, so getting enough daytime sun exposure is also important. Another great idea is a lavender sachet. Simply place dried lavender in a breathable, cloth bag and place it under or near your pillow at night. The scent is therapeutic and promotes relaxation while helping prepare your body for a good night’s rest.
Make Your Sleep Surroundings Your Own
Even for those who sleep with a partner at night, your sleeping situation should fit your needs when it comes to dealing with arthritis pain. Some of you may need a constant fan and cooler temperatures, while others prefer lots of blankets and a warm environment. Whatever your needs are, do your best to suit yourself. Create an environment that is perfect for you. Experiment with the room’s temperature, white noise, natural sounds, or even try dehumidifiers or other devices to help your breathing. The world is your oyster when it comes to creating the perfect sleeping environment so make it specific to you. It may take a while to see what works and what doesn’t, but it’s definitely worth it. A little online research will present a plethora of possibilities when it comes to creating a healthy sleeping environment. Arthritis is bad enough during the day, and anything you can do at night to help reduce those symptoms is worth trying. As always, be patient and compassionate with yourself – you’re doing the best you can….sweet dreams!