BY TERRY CRALLE
The term arthritis can refer to many different rheumatic diseases and conditions, the most common being osteoarthritis. Arthritis is characterized by joint stiffness, swelling, pain and inflammation and affects approximately 52.5 million Americans. According to the CDC, it is the most common cause of disability.
People who suffer from arthritis tend to report sleep disturbances more frequently than those who don’t suffer from its aches and pains. As with many health conditions, there is an interesting two-way street with arthritis and sleep. On one hand, arthritis can certainly make a good night’s sleep more difficult. Yet, research has demonstrated that a good night’s sleep can help with pain and even help control inflammation and further joint damage.
For these reasons, it’s important to prioritize sleep in order to better manage arthritis symptoms. And since sleep, comfort and decreased pain are paramount – a comfortable sleep surface is an essential component of healthy sleep.
An old or uncomfortable mattress may contribute to impaired comfort and sleep quality, thereby exacerbating joint pain and stiffness. A mattress with more cushion or extra plushness (softness) at the surface has been reported to increase comfort and reduces pain. However, the mattress must be firm enough to allow the sleeper to change positions easily.
There are many types of mattresses that have extra padding and are offered in a wide array of materials, including latex, foam, fiberfill, cotton, air, gel, and wool.
It’s worthwhile to do some preliminary research and then try out different mattresses to see what feels best to you. Many people with arthritis provide mattress guidance and recommendations in online forums so you can do a bit of research before you head out to the store.
Be sure to take your time when shopping for a comfortable mattress; spend at least 15 minutes on several different types of mattresses to get a feel for the different materials. Be sure to switch positions on the mattress—a mattress that feels comfortable while sleeping on your back may not feel comfortable in a side-lying position. Consider how easy it is to get in and out of bed, too. A mattress that is too high from the ground or too low to it will make getting in and out of bed more difficult.
Arthritis-specific sleep tips
Heavy blankets and bulky bedding can be uncomfortable by placing added pressure on painful joints. This extra weight can worsen symptoms of arthritis. There are a variety of blanket lifts available for the foot of the bed that will help keep blankets elevated.
Some arthritis sufferers who have trouble getting in and out of the bed as a result of hip and back pain might find an adjustable base helpful. An adjustable base is also helpful for elevating the knees to relieve pressure from the lower back.
Since sleep is so important, and every minute counts, bedding materials that minimize bed partner disturbance can be helpful, while some prefer separate beds or beds with separate controls for each side to reduce bed-partner disturbance.
Taking steps to improve sleep quality and sleep sufficiency will certainly help with managing arthritis. A comfortable mattress is a critical factor in achieving restorative sleep and is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Since sleep is crucial to health and well being for everyone, always consult a sleep specialist for ongoing sleep problems.
Terry Cralle is a registered nurse and a certified clinical sleep educator.