Osteoarthritis May Interfere With Your Good Night’s Rest
You may be surprised to learn that osteoarthritis can hinder both you and your partner from sleeping through the night. We explain the complex relationship between osteoarthritis and insomnia.
How well we sleep can set the tone for our entire day, and has ramifications for our long-term health. Research has shown that people with hip and knee osteoarthritis are more likely to experience insomnia and feel sleepy during the day than those who do not suffer from this joint disease. But the reason that osteoarthritis and sleeplessness are linked is less straightforward than you might suspect.
Common sense would suggest that osteoarthritis causes pain, and pain makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Although pain plays a role in the dynamic between this joint disease and sleeplessness, the relationship is more complex. Research indicates that osteoarthritic pain doesn’t simply trigger sleeplessness. Instead, sleeplessness and osteoarthritic pain seem to coexist and trigger each other.
In 2012, sleep researchers studied sleep quality in people with chronic pain, including those with osteoarthritis. Two of their findings contradicted assumptions about pain causing poor sleep:
- The severity of pain patients felt before their bedtime did not have a significant effect on how well they slept.
- However, the quality of the patient’s sleep during the night did predict the amount of pain they felt the next day. The poorer someone slept, the more pain they reported the next day.
What causes this? How could lack of sleep make your joints feel worse? The researchers suspect that two dynamics are at play:
- Lack of sleep may trigger inflammatory pathways that exacerbate osteoarthritic pain.
- Insomnia can also make us more sensitive to feelings of pain. Our disturbed sleep doesn’t necessarily make joints ache more, but being sleep-deprived may cause us to perceive pain as more intense.
The effects of osteoarthritis pain may affect your partner’s rest as well as your own. Lynn Martire, PhD and associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University, studied the sleep patterns of 138 spouses of patients with knee osteoarthritis. She found that when these patients experienced knee pain at the end of the day, their partners did not sleep as well, and woke feeling less refreshed the next day.
It wasn’t the tossing and turning of the patients with knee osteoarthritis that cost their partners sleep. Martire, in fact, was not able to identify how one person’s pain affected his or her partner’s sleep—except for her observation that the spouses with the closest and most affectionate relationships got the least sleep when their partner was in pain. This suggests that empathy might play a role in sleep quality, but it will take more research to know for sure.
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