[caption id="attachment_351" align="alignright" width="300"] If you suffer from joint pain, getting enough sleep may be part of the problem...and the solution.[/caption] If you suffer from joint pain, getting enough sleep may be part of the problem and the solution. Persistent, aching pain in your back, hips, arms or legs can disrupt your sleep, or reduce your amount of sound sleep. Until recently, restless nights were considered to be almost inevitable with arthritis. But lack of sleep was viewed as a secondary problem. Now, research is revealing that sleep deprivation is a two-way street: not only does joint pain cause sleep loss, but sleep deprivation makes joint pain worse, and can even accelerate joint damage. Read on to find out how lack of sleep can contribute to joint pain, and some ways to sleep more soundly and feel better. The correlation between lack of sleep and arthritis Growing evidence shows that sleep problems exacerbate osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. “There’s a correlation between lack of sleep and pain and it’s a vicious circle. Pain induces lack of sleep and lack of sleep induces pain,” says Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK. Dr. Silman explains that osteoarthritis develops when cartilage that protects the surface of bones becomes damaged and starts to break down. Inflammatory molecules in the body travel to the joints, causing pain and swelling. Disrupted sleep leads to increased numbers of these inflammatory markers, which further aggravates sore joints. One of these markers is called interleukin-1 (IL-1), which is made by white blood cells. Professor Peter Wehling, an orthopedic surgeon and author of The End of Pain, thinks IL-1 is the primary trigger of osteoarthritis. He says “Even one bad night’s sleep can cause the immune system to go into overdrive. It begins to flood the body with white blood cells in an attempt to address exhaustion-related distress. Many of the IL-1 producing white blood cells lodge in the joints and cause discomfort and gradual erosion of cartilage”. Professor Silman agrees. “Loss of sleep may release damaging inflammatory chemicals, but it also means the joints miss out on the healing benefits of sleep. Sleep is the longest time during which the body has low levels of inflammation and the opportunity to heal. During deep sleep, energy levels are restored and the immune system is strengthened.” How much sleep do we need? [caption id="attachment_352" align="alignright" width="300"] The National Sleep Foundation says that adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night.[/caption] The National Sleep Foundation says that adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Yet as many as 70 million Americans have trouble falling asleep, and 30% of adults reported an average of fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night. Other problems associated with lack of sleep Good sleep is essential for optimal health. It is involved in rejuvenating all the cells in your body, giving your cells a chance to repair themselves. Besides aggravating joint pain, sleep deprivation is also associated with weight gain and obesity, because sleep-deprived people tend to eat more calories. They are more likely to reach for sugary treats and simple carbs such as candy, cookies and potato chips for a quick energy boost. So a lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, which is known to make joint pain worse. It also creates added strain on the menisci, the small pads of cartilage in the knee, increasing pain. “Excess body fat can also heighten arthritis directly because our fat cells expand and produce more cytokines, which fuel inflammation,” says Professor Wehling. What causes sleep disorders? In our hectic, 24-7 society, we could just as easily ask, “What doesn’t cause sleep deprivation?” There are a seemingly endless number of reasons why millions of us are missing out on a good night’s sleep. Insomnia is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you suffer from it. Here are some of the most common causes of sleep disorders: Bad lifestyle habits: When you don’t get enough sleep, you are inclined to gulp more caffeine-laden drinks, smoke more, exercise less, and drink more alcohol. These habits, in turn, lead to sleep disturbances, which create a vicious circle of inability to sleep soundly, leading to more bad lifestyle choices. Medications: Many medications, including some for pain, can disturb sleep. Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. If you fight to stay awake during the day, or have loud, persistent snoring, waking up gasping for breath or your partner notices pauses in breathing, you should check if you have sleep apnea. You may also feel sluggish, inattentive, and forgetful if you have sleep apnea. [caption id="attachment_353" align="alignright" width="300"] Anxiety and stressful events can all cause temporary sleep loss.[/caption] Stress and depression: Anxiety, distress, and stressful events such as divorce, death of a loved one, work deadlines, health issues or financial problems can all cause temporary sleep loss. Health issues: Thyroid conditions, congestive heart failure, gastrointestinal problems such as reflux, restless leg syndrome, and chronic pain can all cause sleep disorders. Tips to drift off to dreamland and get a good night’s sleep Getting a good night’ sleep is one of the cornerstones of health. After all, sleep is when your body is able to repair and heal. However, we are all unique individuals, and what works for one person may not work for another. Keep trying new techniques until you find something that works for you. 1. Create and maintain a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up the same time each day, including on weekends. 2. Develop a calming nighttime routine that encourages sleep. A warm bath, meditation, soothing music, or reading can help you relax. Just make sure not to read an action-packed thriller or horror story last thing at night! 3. Remove computers, video games and cell phones from the bedroom. Turn them off an hour or two before bedtime to give yourself time to unwind. 4. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Cover any blinking blue lights from TVs or electronic devices with a towel, (if you haven’t removed them), and get room-darkening curtains. Any light in the room can disrupt your sleep cycle. [caption id="attachment_354" align="alignright" width="300"] Exercise is very beneficial earlier in the day.[/caption] 5. Exercise is very beneficial earlier in the day. Avoid vigorous exercise late in the evening, as it will energize you and keep you awake. 6. Don’t take afternoon naps if you have insomnia. It compounds your disrupted nighttime sleep cycle. 7. Stop eating two to three hours before bedtime to allow your body to digest. 8. Avoid caffeinated beverages or alcohol in the late afternoon or evening. Although alcohol can make your feel drowsy, it interrupts sleep. 9. Drink a mixture of warm milk with a teaspoon of vanilla and a few drops of stevia. It will increase serotonin in your brain and help you sleep. 10. Instead of sleeping pills, consider supplements such as magnesium, valerian, kava kava, and melatonin.