Inadequate Sleep in RA Patients May Worsen Symptoms

February 16, 2011

A link has been discovered connecting poor sleep and painful symptoms in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients.

Everyone knows that poor sleep leads to a multitude of problems throughout the day, but a new study shows that people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who don’t sleep well face significant risks of greater functional disability, mostly due to pain and fatigue symptoms associated with poor sleep quality.

“The primary finding of our study is that poor sleep quality is associated with greater functional disability among patients with [rheumatoid arthritis] and this relationship may be explained by pain severity and fatigue,” said study researcher Faith S. Luyster, PhD, in a news release. Luyster is a research assistant at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Researchers at the university studied the connection between sleep quality and functional disability in 162 patients with RA. All patients had been diagnosed with the disease for at least two years; over three-quarters of the participants were female and their average age was 58.5.

Further, each participant in the study had lived with RA on the average of 14 years.

From a questionnaire researchers had patients fill out—which concerned the sleep quality of the patients, feelings of despondency, and overall health—the researchers collected a multitude of data. Results from these questionnaires showed that 61% of participants were poor sleepers; 33% reported pain that disturbed their sleep at least three times per week.

The researchers report that the results of the study are consistent with additional outside data which proposes that the disturbance of rest may reduce the bodies’ threshold for pain—in some cases even worsen it—in otherwise healthy adults.

“These results highlight the importance of addressing sleep complaints among patients with [rheumatoid arthritis],” she said. “By treating sleep problems, either pharmacologically or behaviorally, symptoms and activity limitations associated with [rheumatoid arthritis] may be reduced.”

The researchers reported there is the possibility that RA may affect depression, pain severity, and fatigue, but it is also possible that sleep quality may exacerbate pain and fatigue and amplify risks of depression.

“Not sleeping well at night can contribute to greater pain sensitivity and fatigue during the day, which in turn can limit patient’s ability to engage in activities of daily living and discretionary activities,” Luyster reported in the news release.

“Addressing sleep problems via pharmacological or behavioral interventions may have a critical impact on the health and lives of patients” with rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers wrote.

The researchers also determined that more study is needed to conclude whether improving sleep quality can diminish pain, depressive symptoms, fatigue, and disability in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

The study is published in the February 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.