Do You Have Trouble Sleeping because of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • Do you have trouble sleeping because of the pain or stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis?  Do you find that your RA causes the sleep disturbances or that the lack of sleep, maybe for other reasons like stress, cause your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms to worsen?  What techniques, treatments have you used to help you sleep longer and more soundly?
     
    I find that inflammation and flares definitely disturb my sleep.  It takes longer to fall asleep at night, I toss more and the stronger the pain, the more frequently I have nightmares, sometimes waking up several times.  When I was very young, and my arthritis was most painful and active, I do remember having nightmares almost every night.  I would toss and turn, getting very tangled and would often fall out of bed.  I remember my mother putting up a railing to keep me in and also surrounding my bed with chairs (covered with pillows) to keep in.  I wore night splints for years on a foot, one leg, and both elbows--not all at the same time--but they were hot and uncomfortable and I would often remove them while asleep, finding them across the room in the morning.  
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    Not a lot of research has been conducted to study the effects of rheumatoid arthritis on sleep.  Sleep disturbances include longer times to fall asleep, frequent waking during the night and waking too early in the morning, resulting in fatigue and daytime sleepiness. There have been a few articles over the years discussing the effects of pain and inflammation on sleep.  There also have been a few articles on complementary or alternative therapies, such as valerian, that may be useful in reducing sleep disturbances.  
     
    Last fall, a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology conducted a large study of sleep disturbance in RA.  The study evaluated 8676 subjects with RA and 1362 subjects with non-fibromyalgia, noninflammatory disorders (like osteoarthritis).  The results showed that sleep disturbances are increased in people with RA, and that 25-42% of sleep disturbances in people with rheumatoid arthritis can be attributed to the RA.  Sleep disturbances are linked to pain, mood and disease activity.  This can work both ways, with RA causing sleep disturbance resulting in mood changes and increased disease activity, or increased disease activity causing more pain and depression, which then affect sleep.  They also found that sleep disturbances are more frequent in women and decreases with increasing age.  Also, increased sleep problems are associated with the number of comorbid conditions and other health problems. 
Published On: May 25, 2007