10 Tips to Improve Sleep with Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis sleep


Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a daily struggle against pain, fatigue, and joint damage. While medications and lifestyle changes are cornerstones of treatment, one key factor is often overlooked – sleep. The quality and quantity of sleep has a tremendous impact on Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) symptoms and disease progression.

This article will explore the research on sleep and rheumatoid arthritis, will discuss how lack of sleep exacerbates Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) while improving sleep habits can significantly ease symptoms. 

Read on to understand why prioritizing healthy sleep is essential for effectively managing Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and learn ten tips to improve sleep. 

The Basics: What is Sleep and Why Is It Important?

rheumatoid arthritis sleep

Sleep allows the body and mind to recharge. During quality sleep, the body repairs tissues, consolidates memories, releases hormones, and more. 

Sleep is a foundational pillar of overall health.

Without adequate sleep, both physical and mental well-being suffer. Skimping on sleep has been linked to higher risks for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mood disorders, impaired cognition and memory issues.

Most adults need 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. However, many people underestimate the importance of sleep and repeatedly cut their sleeping time short. For those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, this can severely exacerbate symptoms and disease progression.

Understanding Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritis

To appreciate sleep’s effects on Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), it’s important to understand pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by joint inflammation and progressive destruction of cartilage and bone. This leads to substantial joint pain.

Rheumatoid Arthritis pain has both physical and emotional aspects. Nerve fibers register pain signals in the brain. But individual factors like mood, stress, and fatigue also modulate how pain is perceived.

While Rheumatoid Arthritis pain may come and go, it strongly impacts one’s quality of life. Living with constant aches and throbbing joints understandably takes a toll mentally. Pain is often worse at night, frequently disrupting sleep.

This lays the foundation for a vicious cycle where pain disturbs sleep, and poor sleep leads to worsened pain. Let’s explore this interplay between pain and sleep in rheumatoid arthritis.

Bidirectional Relationship Between Pain and Sleep in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Extensive research confirms that pain and sleep have a bidirectional relationship, each strongly influencing the other. Not getting enough sleep lowers the pain threshold and increases pain sensitivity. This causes a flare-up of arthritis pain.

Conversely, severe rheumatoid pain at night frequently interrupts sleep and reduces sleep quality in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients. Fragmented sleep provides inadequate rest, so pain is again amplified the following day.

Additional factors like stress, anxiety and depression also disrupt sleep. 

This cyclical interaction where poor sleep exacerbates pain, and pain diminishes sleep quality, can deeply impact rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Research indicates that 60-80% of chronic pain patients experience deficient sleep. At least 50% of insomnia patients also have chronic pain conditions. This intersection of pain and sleep is a critical issue in rheumatoid disease management.

Impact of Inadequate Sleep on Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Study after study demonstrates that lack of sufficient quality sleep substantially worsens rheumatoid arthritis symptoms:

  • Increased pain sensitivity – Poor sleep is strongly linked to lowered pain thresholds and amplified pain perception in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients.
  • Higher disease activity – Inflammation and Rheumatoid Arthritis disease activity markers increase with short or fragmented sleep.
  • Worsened fatigue – Interrupted sleep exacerbates fatigue, brain fog and low energy commonly felt with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • More depression – Inadequate sleep negatively affects mood and amplifies feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
  • Less ability to exercise – Exhaustion from poor sleep reduces motivation and energy to stay active.
  • Impaired cognition – Sleep deprivation is linked to focus and concentration issues in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients.
  • Poor nutrition choices – Fatigue and brain fog lead to less optimal food choices and eating patterns.

As you can see, lack of quality sleep has detrimental effects on nearly every aspect of living with rheumatoid arthritis. Prioritizing sleep is crucial.

Optimizing Sleep for Better Rheumatoid Arthritis Management

The takeaway is clear – improving sleep quality and duration should be a top priority for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Taking steps to enhance sleep delivers immense benefits:

  • Reduced pain and inflammation – More sleep strengthens joints and directly lowers inflammatory cytokines.
  • Improved mood and outlook – Adequate sleep enhances coping abilities and resilience.
  • Lower fatigue – Quality rest restores mental clarity and physical energy levels.
  • Increased exercise ability – Sleep rejuvenates the body so activity is easier.
  • Better nutrition habits – Without exhaustion, healthier food choices become doable.
  • Stronger medication efficacy – Certain Rheumatoid Arthritis drugs work optimally with consistent sleep.
  • More social engagement – Sleep improves irritability and relationships.
  • Enhanced work/school productivity – Alertness, focus and performance increase.

Adequate nightly sleep empowers patients to more effectively manage rheumatoid arthritis. Work collaboratively with your rheumatologist to make sleep a pillar of your treatment regimen.

10 Tips to Improve Sleep with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Here are 10 evidence-based recommendations for enhancing sleep when living with rheumatoid arthritis:

  1. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends. Keeping an aligned circadian rhythm is key.
  2. Develop a relaxing pre-bedtime routine like reading, listening to calm music or taking a bath.
  3. Limit screen time and digital devices before bed – the blue light inhibits melatonin release.
  4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol or heavy meals within 3 hours of bedtime.
  5. Make the bedroom ideal for sleep – cool, completely dark and quiet. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask.
  6. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows tailored to your sleep position. This reduces pain points.
  7. Try mindfulness techniques before bed like deep breathing, meditation or body scans.
  8. Take medications at optimal times – discuss timing with your doctor to enhance sleep.
  9. Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes as longer naps disrupt nighttime sleep.
  10. Ask your doctor about supplemental melatonin or other sleep aids if needed.

The first step is making sleep a healthcare priority and having an open dialogue with your rheumatologist. Implementing even a few of these practical sleep hygiene tips can get you on the path to better rest and rheumatoid arthritis management.

Sleep: A Critical Component of Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

We often overlook how powerfully sleep impacts health, especially when living with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Prioritizing restorative sleep is a pivotal piece of effectively controlling Rheumatoid Arthritis inflammation, pain, fatigue and disability.

If you are committed to optimally managing your rheumatoid arthritis, partner with your healthcare providers to make sleep a central component of your treatment regimen. An ongoing focus on enhancing sleep habits and consistency pays huge dividends for your symptoms, functionality and overall well-being.



All content shared on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medicine. You should always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment regarding your specific medical needs. We don’t represent that any of the products or services offered through this site are safe, appropriate, or effective for you. We advise you to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider regarding personal health or medical conditions. If you know or suspect you have a medical problem, contact a qualified healthcare professional immediately. If you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.

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