Top tips for good sleep

An alarm clock in front of a sleeping woman.

Arthritis can affect the way you sleep, especially if your pain makes it uncomfortable to lie down.

Getting good quality sleep is as important as a decent diet and regular exercise for your health and wellbeing. When we don’t get enough sleep, this can affect our mood, ability to concentrate and our relationships. And not getting enough good sleep when you have arthritis can make it harder to cope with pain.

Sleep has restorative powers. During sleep our bodies release hormones that help the body to repair itself.

There are small adjustments you can make to help improve your sleep. Here are six ways you can try to boost your zzzs.

If you continue to have problems sleeping, contact your GP for further support.

1. Wind down and get comfortable

Take the time to relax of an evening before you go to bed. Things that can help your mind relax include reading a book, having a warm bath and listening to soothing music. It might sound a bit old fashioned, but you might even like to write a diary entry.

On the other hand, watching television, looking at your phone or any other electrical device close to bedtime can make it harder for you to get to sleep. This is because the artificial light overstimulates the brain.

Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature and check that your mattress and pillows are comfortable.

2.  Sleep at regular times

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. Most adults need about seven to eight hours per night, although this can vary from person to person.

3. Food and drink

In terms of food and drinks to avoid, eating a big meal late in the evening can stop you from sleeping. But make sure you eat enough through the day so that you are not hungry during the night. Alcohol can impair the quality of your sleep and drinking caffeine later in the day can impact on your ability to get to sleep.

4. Keep a sleep diary

Keeping a diary of your sleep pattern can help you spot things that disturb your sleep. It can include:

  • what time you go to bed and wake up
  • whether you got to sleep easily or not
  • any causes of disturbance, such as your mood, pain or fatigue
  • any caffeinated drinks 
  • your daytime activities.

It might help to keep a notepad and pen next to your bed, so that if something is bothering you at night you can write it down and deal with it the next day.

5.  Treatments for pain that disturb sleep

Cramps

Many people with arthritis can have painful muscle cramps during the night. Your doctor will see if any of your medication could be causing the cramps (for example diuretics or statins). They'll also suggest some stretching exercises before you go to bed. 

Chronic pain

Drugs that are usually prescribed for chronic pain may sometimes have useful effects on sleep, for example, pregabalin and gabapentin.

6.  Healthy lifestyle choices can help you sleep

Keeping active, in particular doing regular aerobic exercise that makes you at least a bit out of breath can help you sleep. But it’s best not to exercise within an hour before going to bed.

Smoking is bad for your health in general, so if you smoke it’s best to try to stop. Smoking close to bedtime can make it harder to get to sleep because nicotine stimulates the brain.

Read more about sleep and arthritis.