How to Get Better Sleep With Spinal Inflammatory Arthritis | Keck Medicine of USC

How to Get Better Sleep With Spinal Inflammatory Arthritis

Joint pain can make getting a good night’s rest a challenge. These tips will help you regain a sound slumber.

Whether you have spondylosis (osteoarthritis), rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylosis or juvenile idiopathic arthritis, you may struggle to get a restorative night’s rest. Spinal inflammatory arthritis can cause considerable joint pain and wreak havoc on your sleep quality, leaving you far from refreshed come morning.

Below you’ll learn why spinal arthritis can disrupt healthy sleep, along with five tips to help you restore a healthy sleep rhythm with joint pain.

Understanding ways spinal inflammatory arthritis can hurt your sleep

You may think that the joint pain of arthritis is why you have trouble getting a quality night’s sleep. While that certainly could be the case, researchers are discovering that more factors could be at play.

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A study published in the journal Sleep in 2012 examined the sleep of people with chronic pain, including those with osteoarthritis. The research revealed a strong connection between chronic pain and insomnia. The authors noted that insomnia can lead to more joint pain because poor sleep may trigger inflammatory pathways that worsen arthritis pain. Making matters worse, a bad night of sleep can heighten the perception of pain the next day.

Arthritis pain doesn’t just impact the sleep of adults — young people with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) also struggle with getting the sleep they need. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill collaborated with pediatric rheumatologists at Duke University in Durham to study the effects of poor sleep on children with JIA. They found that sleep and pain levels were strongly related, as were mood and sleep quality. This is significant — while sleep is essential for the health of all people, it has developmental implications for children. It’s especially important for children with JIA and their parents to understand what they can do to get a solid night’s rest.

5 spinal arthritis sleep tips

Sore and achy joints shouldn’t get in the way of achieving quality sleep and waking up well-rested in the morning. Here are five things to consider to help get a good night’s rest.

1. Could your corticosteroid be part of the problem? Corticosteroid treatment has been linked to insomnia. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, talk to your doctor about altering your medication regimen at bedtime, such as taking an aspirin or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID) instead. Corticosteroids aren’t the only spine pain medications that can interfere with a good night’s rest.

You can learn more about how medicine impacts sleep in Are Back Pain Medications Disrupting Your Sleep?

2. Match your sleep position to your joint pain. Have a sore joint in your neck? Rest your head on a flat pillow so your cervical spine is in a neutral position. Those with low back joint pain might find relief by sleeping on their back or side with their knees and hips flexed at a 90-degree angle. If you have hip joint stiffness, sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs is a good idea.

You can get more ideas on finding the right sleep posture for your spine in Position Yourself for Sound Sleep with Back Pain.

3. A firm mattress and supportive pillow may help. A firm mattress will support your body and help ease pain. Pillows are also important to acquiring good sleep, and lumbar and cervical pillows can help cushion tender joint pain points.

4. Move some morning tasks to the night before. Joint pain is the worst first thing in the morning, so do yourself a favor and complete some of your morning tasks the night before, such as fixing your lunch, choosing your outfit, prepping breakfast, or packing your work bag. The extra time will reduce your morning stress and allow you to gently ease into your day.

5. Sneak in a morning stretch session. With the time you save by moving some morning to-dos to the night before, you can do some gentle stretching to start your day. Even with a good night’s sleep, doing some stretches before you get out of bed will help minimize pain and allow you to gradually prepare your body for movement. Follow up your stretch session with a hot shower to soothe stiff joints, and you’ll feel ready to take on the day.

More ways to boost sleep quality with spinal inflammatory arthritis

Sleep problems can affect anyone — even those who have never experienced the spinal joint pain of spondylosis (osteoarthritis), rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylosis, or juvenile idiopathic arthritis. You may follow all the advice above and still struggle to get the restorative rest you need. If that’s the case, there may be another issue causing your sleep problems unrelated to joint pain. Perhaps it’s the noise level in your bedroom or your afternoon nap habit. You can learn some practical tips to help you wake up refreshed in Sound Sleep for a Healthy Spine. If you’re still not getting quality sleep, talk to your rheumatologist about the options available to you.

by Raymond Jonathan Hah, MD

Raymond Hah, MD, is an assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Dr. Hah specializes in the management of patients with neck and back disorders at the USC Spine Center. He has a special interest in minimally invasive surgery.

If you are experiencing back pain or are looking for a second opinion, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit