Arthritis And Sleep

April 2021

If you have difficulty sleeping, you're not alone. Research shows up to 80% of people with arthritis can have disturbed sleeping patterns. 

Because several of your body's functions are influenced by sleep, disturbed or limited sleep can have a big impact on our overall health. It can cause concentration issues, impact on our mood, and affect our ability to do our normal activities. 

More specific to our arthritis, poor sleep can cause us to experience more pain. It can also increase the levels of stress hormones in our body and aggravate flares. While we're sleeping, our brain makes chemicals and hormones that we need to feel better. So, a lack of sleep can mean we aren't able to cope with pain as well as when we are rested.  

Sleep issues can also have an affect on our mental health and wellbeing, which can further reduce our ability to get a good nights sleep. 

How is sleep affected by arthritis?

There are many reasons someone may have sleep difficulties, including diet, physical inactivity, stress, or habits/activities before bedtime.

Other reasons people who live with arthritis may experience disturbed sleep include: 

  • Pain - pain can keep us from getting to sleep, can wake us during the night or can make it difficult to find a comfortable position
  • Emotional health - In Australia, it is estimated that over a quarter of people living with arthritis have a mental health condition, which can also cause us trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep and being tired during the day
  • Medications - some arthritis medications can contribute to sleeplessness


What kind of sleep problems are there?  

A severely disturbed sleep pattern can cause all the following problems:

  • You may have trouble getting to sleep but then sleep through the night.
  • You may wake often during the night or wake up too early.
  • You might not remember having disturbed sleep but don’t feel refreshed when you wake up. This is called (non-restorative sleep).

If this continues for a long time, it can cause increased muscle tension and can be linked with muscular pain. Sleep also has a major effect on our mood.

It's normal to wake up once or twice each night, and it's only a problem if you can't get back to sleep again or if you’re not happy with the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting.

How much sleep do I need?

Most adults need about 7–8 hours' sleep per night, though this varies from person to person. Children tend to sleep more than adults, and older people tend to have lighter sleep.

What can I do?

To help improve your sleep, the first step is to try and identify what is preventing you from getting a good nights sleep. 

There may be small, simple changes you can make to help improve your chances of a better sleep. You may also need to speak with your GP and healthteam, and in some cases you may also be referred to specialist sleep experts. 

The articles and links below include the various things you can do to help improve your sleep habits:

RA and sleep. Published by Arthritis Australia on MyRA
How can disturbed sleep affect my health. Published by Arthritis Australia on MyRA 

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