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World Sleep Day: How restorative sleep can ease joint pain

For World Sleep Day, we uncover the relationship between sleep deprivation and joint pain. Our Joint Pain Matters 2021 report reveals that 66% of people with joint pain struggle to sleep.  

More than a third (37.38%) of people who responded to our Joint Pain Matters survey struggle with disrupted sleep every single night as a result of joint pain. We uncover how restorative sleep can potentially improve your joint pain and boost your overall health. We also offer tips to help you sleep tight through the night.


Sleep cycles: what happens when you sleep? 

As you fall asleep, your body enters two key phases. The first phase that your body enters is known as non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. During non-REM sleep, your mind and circulation begin to slow down. As this happens, your heart rate and blood pressure gradually fall. Your muscles remain relaxed in non-REM sleep, but you might still move around in your bed. 

According to Harvard Health, after around 45 minutes your sleep phase shifts into the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase. At this point, your eyes remain shut. However, they still move around rapidly in different directions under your eyelids. 

When your body enters the REM sleep phase, your muscles do not move at all. Harvard Health states that your breathing becomes slower. A brief pause in your breathing can occur. Your heart rate and blood pressure can also fluctuate, switching between low to high. After around 30 to 45 minutes, your sleep cycle returns to non-REM sleep. Your body will continue to switch between these phases throughout your sleep.   

Harvard Health states that there are usually four to six sleep cycles of non-REM and REM in a single night of sleep. Each sleep cycle can last from 90 to 110 minutes.    

How much sleep do I need?

A common question that people ask is: “How much sleep do I need?” The NHS recommends that adults have six to nine hours of sleep every night. But children require more sleep than adults.   

The NHS advises
that babies under the age of one have 12 to 16 hours of sleep – this includes naps. The recommended amount of sleep for children aged between three to five-years-old is 10 to 13 hours of sleep every night including naps. For children aged six to 12-years-old, the recommended amount of sleep is nine to 12 hours of sleep every night. If you’re a teenager, you should aim for at least eight to 10 hours of sleep every night.    

How does sleep deprivation affect joint pain?

Joint pain can disrupt your sleep and, in turn, lead to an increased sensitivity to pain. This happens because lack of sleep can sometimes interfere with your brain’s perception of pain. This vicious cycle of chronic pain and sleep deprivation is known as painsomnia.   

The BMJ reveals that disrupted sleep and the sleep deprivation that follows are closely associated with musculoskeletal pain. A study published by the US National Library of Medicine identifies that sleep deprivation can worsen fatigue, depression and pain in people with joint pain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. 

If you suffer from sleep deprivation, you might find you’re more irritable, moody and have difficulty concentrating. Disrupted sleep can have serious health consequences. Sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in stress hormone levels and can cause you to develop an irregular heartbeat.

How can sleep help joint pain?

A good night’s sleep can help you manage your pain better by reducing your sensitivity to pain. According to the NHS, during your sleep, your body builds and repairs itself by creating new tissue. Regular sleep can boost your energy levels and immune system, which allows your body to recover from illnesses. Sleep supports your cognitive development by helping your brain store memories and create new ideas. Your mood and mental wellbeing are also connected to a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Tackling sleep problems: what I can do before I go to sleep?

What I can do before I go to sleep? The first step to tackling sleep problems is having regular sleeping hours. It allows your brain and body to become accustomed to a routine. A warm bath can alleviate pain and stiffness in your joints while helping you relax and prepare for bedtime. Sleep meditation or mindfulness meditation promotes sleep by focusing on your breathing and encouraging your mind to relax. Harvard Health recommends using calming techniques, such as repeating a positive word, phrase or prayer as you inhale or exhale. You might find that reading a book or listening to music helps you relax you and prepare for sleep. The NHS advises staying away from smartphones and other electronic devices for at least an hour before going to bed as the light emitted by these devices can disturb your sleep.