Sleep is essential for everyone, and especially for people living with chronic joint pain.
Because here's the thing:
When you sleep, you aren't just lying there "doing nothing." During sleep, your body is actually working hard to repair and regenerate its cells, tissues, and organs. If you consistently don't get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, your short-term and even long-term health can be negatively affected—and your chronic pain may even feel worse.1,2 Chronic sleep deprivation even increases the risk other health conditions frequently associated with pain, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain kinds of cancer.3
Of course, even if this all makes perfect sense to you, you may still feel frustrated. After all, falling or staying asleep with chronic pain can be challenging, and many people with conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia struggle with insomnia.2,4 One study even showed that as many as 10.2 million Americans with arthritis also have sleep disturbances.4
So, here's the pickle: people with chronic pain often struggle to sleep, and are more likely to have insomnia than people without chronic pain.3 But a lack of sleep can worsen pain, whereas sufficient sleep can make it better. What can you do?
While there's no one simple fix for anyone, there are several strategies you can explore to improve your sleep and make it easier to get your much-needed rest. Check out the suggestions below.
1. Use the right mattress, pillows, and sleeping position for your needs
Your sleep environment should meet the needs of your body and personal preferences. So aside from using your bed and bedroom only for sleep and sexual intimacy, experiment with positions and products that work best for you. Here are a few general ideas:
Sleeping on the back can sometimes help people with chronic back pain; people with shoulder or arm pain might want to avoid sleeping on their affected side
2. Consult with your doctor before trying or altering sleep aids and other medications
You should always check with your medical provider before starting or stopping any medication, whether it's prescription or non-prescription. Pain medication or sleeping aids may be useful to you, but they do carry certain risks including side effects and dependency.
Sleeping medications may even disrupt the quality of your sleep cycle.3 This is why many leading sleep experts recommend exploring other natural ways to improve sleep before reaching for the medicine cabinet.
3. Practice good basic sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a collection of lifestyle habits and behaviors shown to boost sleep quality and quantity, and optimize the systems in the brain and body that facilitate sleep.3,5-7 To help yourself fall and stay asleep even if you have pain daily, keep these habits in mind:
4. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
Part of good sleep hygiene involves having a relaxing routine at night. This helps your body get used to your schedule, promotes sleepiness, and keeps you from being too overstimulated to fall asleep.
The trick? Do relaxing things you enjoy! Ideas include:
5. Exercise during the day
Exercise can improve sleep and also help you manage chronic joint pain, so daily movement is important for both.3,10 Talk to a physical therapist or doctor about ways to exercise safely and what things you can do to improve joint function and muscle strength.
There's no question that people who report chronic pain tend to also report lower quality and quantity of sleep compared to people without pain. But that doesn't mean your chronic pain condition has to prevent you from ever getting good night’s sleep. Implement these techniques today, and if you're still struggling, talk to your medical provider.