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When Aches & Pain Disrupt Sleep

It's a vicious cycle -- pain keeps you awake, and sleeplessness makes pain worse.

Finding Solutions

Experts strongly recommend that people with chronic pain and insomnia practice good "sleep hygiene," a medical term for good sleep habits. These suggestions aren't specific to people with chronic pain -- they can help anyone with sleep problems.

  • Cut back -- or cut out -- the caffeine. If you're overtired, coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas may help you get through the day. But in all likelihood, they're just worsening your problem, since they disturb your sleep at night. So struggle through a few days without your dose of caffeine and see how you do.
  • Avoid naps. "Napping during the day just reduces the amount you can sleep at night," says Roth.
  • Exercise, but not too late. While physical activity is good for everyone, intense exercise -- especially in the late afternoon and evening -- can rev your body up and make sleeping at night difficult. So try a more moderate exercise routine and make sure to do it before the evening.
  • Cut out the alcohol in the evening. A nightcap might seem like the perfect way to put yourself to sleep. But the problem is that alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycles and wake you up later.
  • Don't overeat in the evening. A stuffed stomach may make it harder to sleep, says Lavigne.
  • Make your bedroom a calming place. It's very easy to have your bedroom become a multipurpose dumping ground. It might be filled with baskets of laundry, your kids' toys, and a blaring TV. But experts say that you should make your bedroom a more neutral, soothing place. In fact, they recommend that you reserve you bedroom only for sleeping and sex. Get rid of the distractions.
  • Relax before bed. Don't do anything before bed that could get you anxious or excited. Avoid doing work in the evening or even getting into serious discussions with your spouse. Instead, try focused relaxation or breathing exercises.
  • If you can't sleep, don't lie awake in bed. Willing yourself to sleep won't work -- you'll probably just make yourself anxious. So if you're not asleep within 15 minutes of lying down, get out of bed and do something else. Read a book. Take a bath. Listen to soft music. Once you feel yourself getting tired, get back into bed.
  • Get up at the same time every day regardless of when you went to sleep. It's one way of getting yourself onto a schedule.

Using Medicines

Medication, either to ease pain or help sleep -- or a combination of both -- can be invaluable to people who have their sleep disturbed by pain.

For mild, temporary pain, over-the-counter painkillers -- like Tylenol, Advil, or Motrin -- may be enough. Some over-the-counter painkillers are sold with an antihistamine to help with sleep, such as Advil PM or Tylenol PM. However, over-the-counter medicines are not designed for long-term self-medication.

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