Arthritis and insomnia are a dangerous combination and generally go hand-in-hand like Siamese twins. If you have arthritis, you probably find that you have difficulty going to sleep. How can you go to sleep anyway when you are experiencing a throbbing or aching pain in your joints?
The tossing and turning all night long prevents you from getting sufficient sleep to stay healthy, which of course means that your arthritis will worsen and creating the perfect recipe for falls. So, how can you cope with this?
What is Insomnia?
The condition of insomnia is where you have trouble falling or remaining asleep. Within this broad description are shades of variation.
Some people with insomnia find it difficult to fall asleep. Others may sleep throughout the night but exhibit strange characteristics in their sleep pattern. The problem they have may be that they wake up too early and are not able to get back to sleep, or that they do not feel refreshed after many hours of sleep.
Insomnia can drain your energy level and mood, health, work performance and quality of life (Mayo Clinic 2016). It can lead to daytime drowsiness, fatigue, slowed reaction times, anxiety, irritability, and depression and can make you more prone to accidents and falls.
How much sleep is enough varies from person to person, but most adults need seven to eight hours a night.
About 30% of adults suffer from acute insomnia – bouts of insomnia that last a few days at a time, while 10% of adults suffer ongoing difficulty sleeping, known as chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia is that which occurs more than 3 nights a week for over a month (J Hopkins Medicine, 2020)
Arthritis sufferers typically find that they experience chronic insomnia or insomnia that does not go away and occurs for a long period.
Chronic insomnia is usually caused by stress, habits disruptive of sleep, and traumatic events in life. It can be addressed by treating the underlying cause, but resolution may sometimes be awfully slow.
Risk Factors for Insomnia in Seniors
Generally, older adults are predisposed to insomnia. The risk of insomnia is greater if you are:
- Over 60 years of age – As part of the aging process as changes in health and sleep patterns occur.
- Female – Menopause causes changes in hormonal levels and the accompanying hot flashes and night sweats can be disruptive to sleep.
- Experiencing a mental health disorder
- Having health conditions – Includes illness
- Under stress – Temporary insomnia can be caused by general stressful conditions, while chronic insomnia may be caused by major stressful events which may be long-lasting.
Insomnia can affect your memory and concentration. Chronic insomnia raises your risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (NHLBI 2019).
Why Seniors with Arthritis and Insomnia Develop Chronic Insomnia
We know that arthritis is a persistent and deeply rooted disease that can affect various joints in the body. It has also been determined that seniors are already at a higher risk of developing insomnia, but this can typically develop into chronic insomnia in those with arthritis. The question is “Why”?
If you develop chronic insomnia, schedule a visit to see your doctor or healthcare professional especially if it starts to interfere with your day-to-day activities or cause other problems. With arthritis, experiencing chronic insomnia becomes especially important as it could increase your risk of accidents and falls.
There are many reasons for chronic insomnia in seniors with arthritis, all of which can be easily explained.
Top of the list is age. Insomnia becomes more common with age (Mayo Clinic 2016). This is because sleep patterns change as you grow older, and sleep is not as restful or refreshing as when you were younger. You still however need between the same 7-8 hours of sleep as most younger people require.
Have you noticed that you get tired much earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning? That sounds or noise which typically would not have affected you before now become disruptive to your sleep? These changes are normal, but couple this with aching arthritic joints and you have a high likelihood of developing chronic insomnia.
Aside from arthritis, there are a host of other health conditions in seniors and the elderly that can affect sleep patterns and their quality. These include:
- Bladder problems such as incontinence
- Prostrate problems
- Back problems
- Sleep apnea
- Restless legs syndrome
Being awake then tends to amplify perception of your arthritis pain, resulting in more tossing and turning in bed and – chronic insomnia.
The increased use of prescribed medications by seniors and the elderly (in many cases, understandably necessary) sometimes result in an increased chance of insomnia associated with these medications.
For example, insomnia can be a side effect of the medication used to treat arthritis. These medications may eliminate the pain but can make you stay up all night. On the other hand, if you do not take the medication, you may also lie awake all night tossing and turning with pain. It is like being between the devil and the deep blue sea!
Worry in older adults about anything, including something such as mundane as an appointment with the doctor can cause them to stay awake all night long.
Arthritis and Insomnia in Seniors – Prevention and Management
The shorter the duration of sleep and the poorer its quality due to frequent waking up in the night, the more pain an arthritis sufferer experiences. It is therefore logical to deduce that if the quality of sleep can be improved, arthritic pain can also be reduced.
There are behavioral / lifestyle changes that can help prevent insomnia. These should be addressed first before selecting physical products like weighted blankets that can further promote sound sleep. Discuss with your doctor about if use of a weighted blanket is the right solution for you. Using good comfortable pillows can also help.
Prevention – Changes in Behavior of Seniors with Arthritis and Insomnia
- Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible for sleeping in. Get extra pillows if necessary. Leg elevation pillows may also be beneficial for making you comfortable enoughand get you to fall asleep. Check a previous article – Leg Cramps in Seniors. The Best Leg Pillows for Night Relief for a variety of options and what you need to consider when selecting a brand to buy,
- A relaxing bedtime ritual can be helpful. This can include a warm bath, reading or listening to soft music. Make this a consistent daily habit.
- Use a cold wrap before bedtime to see if you can relieve the pain. Sometimes, this may or may not work but it never hurts to give it a trial..
- Avoid large meals and beverages before bedtime.
- Maintain a consistent and regular wake up time and bedtime each day.
- Stay active, as regular activity helps promote a good night’s sleep. Reduced activity may promote taking naps during the day. These should be avoided or greatly limited.
- Check all your medications with your doctor to see if they may be contributing to your insomnia.
- Avoid or limit caffeinated drinks and beverages and the use of alcohol
- Do not use nicotine.
- ProtoCold Tri-Versal Cold Wrap
- Description:The ProtoCold TriVersal Cold Wrap is a non-gel cold pad wrap that remains soft and flexible while providing effective cold therapy treatment. This cold wrap helps to relieve pain associated with muscle sprains, muscle strains, joint pain, arthritis pain,
- Price: $23.95
- ProtoCold Standard Cold Pad
- Description:The ProtoCold Standard Size Cold Pad provides effective cold therapy for pain relief from muscle sprains and strains, arthritis pain, and post-surgical pain. Just place in freezer for two hours and apply to affected area for up to 30 minutes. The pad may
- Price: $22.95
- ProtoCold Neck Cold Wrap
- Description:The ProtoCold Neck Cold Wrap reusable ice pack wrap remains soft and flexible while providing effective cold therapy treatment for neck and shoulder pain. The wrap around design with Velcro Ã‚Â® closure contours around the neck and shoulders to relieve ne
- Price: $24.95
- ProtoCold Half Size Cold Pad
- Description:The ProtoCold Half Size Cold Pad delivers timed-release cold therapy. This half size non-gel cold pad is ideal for shoulder pain, back pain, leg pain, muscle sprains, arthritis pain or surgical pain. This cold pad remains dry, soft and flexible even when
- Price: $19.95
Management - Use Weighted Blankets For Arthritis and Insomnia
What is a weighted blanket? It is a blanket that has pellets, plastic or glass beads sewn into it to make it heavy. These apply equal pressure over a body when under the blanket. The weighted blanket is scientifically-proven to help you relax, reduce stress and improve sleep through the use of Deep Touch Pressure (DTP).
A variety of weighted blankets exist for hot and cold sleepers, bamboo or cotton fabric, glass bead weighting and in different colors to suit individual preferences. Some are sold with duvet covers, while duvet covers are sold separately for others.
Bamboo and Cotton Weighted Blankets for Arthritis and Insomnia
Insomnia can result in daytime drowsiness, fatigue and slowed reaction times. This is ultimately why seniors having arthritis and insomnia need to be extremely careful. It can affect your performance in everything you do and can be a quick recipe for unexpected falls.
Please share any experiences you may have had with arthritis and insomnia in the comment box below
- Mayo Clinic (2016) Insomnia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167?p=1
- John Hopkins Medicine (2020) Insomnia https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/insomnia
- Health Grades (2019) Insomnia https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/sleep-disorders/insomnia
- The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Insomnia (2019) https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/insomnia
- Senior Safety ( ) Are Weighted Blankets Safe For The Elderly? https://seniorsafetyadvice.com/are-weighted-blankets-safe-for-the-elderly/
- Harvard Women's Health Watch (2019) Anxiety and stress weighing heavily at night? A new blanket might help https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/anxiety-and-stress-weighing-heavily-at-night-a-new-blanket-might-help
- Sonno Zoha (2018 ) Can a weighted blanket help relieve your chronic symptoms? https://blog.sonnozona.com/can-a-weighted-blanket-help-relieve-your-chronic-symptoms/