Managing Arthritis

6 tips for better sleep

A man sleeping in bed

In a recent Arthritis Talks webinar, Susan Johnston, nurse educator at Vancouver Coastal Health's OASIS Program, explained the importance of a good night's sleep and provided helpful tips for getting enough ZZZs to help manage arthritis.  

Sleep allows our body tissues and mechanisms to be restored and repaired. While in deep sleep, the bone marrow creates new blood, and our vital bodily functions get much-needed rest — our heart rhythm decreases and our blood pressure goes down.  

"Sufficient sleep regulates our immune functions and that's why it's easier to get sick when we are getting insufficient sleep for a prolonged period of time," says Susan.  

The link between stress, pain and sleep 

There is a vicious cycle where pain causes stress, preventing good sleep, and in turn, leads to more pain.

Insomnia-Stress-Pain Connection

If you struggle with chronic pain, it is important to incorporate pain management strategies into your daily routine. This may include taking breaks during activities, practicing mindfulness, implementing heat and cold therapies, and making sure you sit down after long periods of standing. These are some simple changes you can make to help manage your pain.  

"If you don't manage your pain through the course of the day, all the aches your body endures may amplify right before bedtime, once you finally relax. This can be detrimental to the nervous and immune systems," says Susan.     

How to improve your sleep 

Getting a good night's sleep is paramount to managing arthritis and pain. Here are some tips to improve your sleep: 

1. Reduce exposure to light before bed

Exposure to sunlight triggers a rise in levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that controls your mood and affects your sleep), which naturally ramps up in the morning, causing alertness, and making us feel energized. In contrast, when light exposure dips, melatonin (a hormone that induces sleep) is produced. 

Research indicates that exposure to blue light emanating from our electronic devices tricks our brains into thinking it's daytime, delaying melatonin production. Therefore, limiting screen time before bed can support better sleep.

2. Improve your environment

As you get older, it is common to become more sensitive to noise, light or movements, causing disruptions in your sleep cycle. Investing in a good mattress and pillows, trying ear plugs or eye masks, and avoiding sleeping with pets can help create an environment conducive to quality sleep. 

3. Get moving

Exercise is a key component of good sleep, increasing adenosine activity in the brain (neurotransmitter that supports our sleep drive) and releasing endorphins (mood-boosting hormones). Exercising for 20 to 30 minutes four times a week can help you sleep well at night and feel good all day.

4. Watch what you drink

Alcohol alters sleep quality. While it's a depressant that technically relaxes you, its consumption disrupts sleep. On the other hand, caffeinated beverages can keep you stimulated and awake, while increasing the number of times you may visit the washroom in a night. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages or eating caffeinated snacks past 4 p.m. – this includes chocolates, coffee and certain teas.

"It is also recommended to drink eight glasses of water per day, but keep in mind the last one should be around dinnertime. If you're thirsty afterwards, limit yourself to sips to avoid the need to urinate in the middle of the night.Diminishing your consumption of salt can help, too, as it causes your body to retain water," says Susan. 

If you find yourself waking up multiple times a night to urinate, talk to your doctor. 

5. Plan your routine

Having a bedtime routine can be beneficial. Try to include these 10 things to do before going to sleep or a mindfulness meditation as you get ready for bed.   "And if you go to bed too late, try and wake up at the same time in the morning. It's better to feel tired for one day than to alter your regular sleep schedule," says Susan.  

6. Mind the meds

Steroids (like prednisone, a common arthritis medication) are stimulants. It is preferable to take this medication in the morning rather than before bed. Make sure to follow your pharmacist's recommendations on when to take prescribed drugs.   

For more ideas on how to improve your sleep, read this useful resource on sleep and arthritis. This article is based on an Arthritis Talks webinar, led by Susan Johnston, nurse educator. Arthritis Talks brings current, evidence-based information straight from the experts directly to you. Consult our Arthritis Talks page to register or learn more about our programming.

You can also find more helpful resources for managing osteoarthritis by visiting Vancouver Coastal Health's OASIS program.