It’s been a general consensus amongst physicians that chronic pain can disrupt sleep, leading to insomnia and frequent awakenings during the night. In the sleep research field, it’s been long known that poor sleep quality or quantity can lower your pain thresholds, meaning that you’ll feel pain a lot earlier. Regardless of what causes what, it’s a vicious cycle.
Here’s a study that only confirms this link: Nonrestorative sleep was found to be a strong predictor of widespread pain in adults over 50. This has enormous implications as people age and go on to develop aches and pains that are commonly found with arthritis.
Anecdotally, I’ve had a handful of patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis who stated that the pain went away completely after starting CPAP for newly diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea. One patient tried a number of different biologics that are often prescribed for severe rheumatoid arthritis, but only CPAP helped. This is not surprising, since sleep apnea causes generalized systemic inflammation, in addition to aggravating any already existing pain.
Statistically, it can be argued that the majority of people over 65 will have at least some degree of obstructive sleep apnea. If this is the case, it’s not surprising that as sleep apnea worsens, arthritis can also worsen.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, what is the quality of your sleep?