Sweeter Dreams with Back Arthritis

Ankylosing spondylitis patients can improve sleep quality

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

Ankylosing spondylitis is a painful condition that can interfere with many aspects of your life, including your sleep. If your back pain is keeping you from getting a good night's rest, it may be time to make some changes.

This article offers simple steps to improve your sleep while living with ankylosing spondylitis.

Why Does Ankylosing Spondylitis Disrupt My Sleep?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that affects the joints between the bones of the spine. These joints become swollen and inflamed, leading to pain. Over time, the affected bones can fuse together.

In the beginning of the disease, patients may feel back pain that comes and goes. Pain and stiffness often become worse at night, in the morning or when patients are inactive. For this reason, patients with ankylosing spondylitis are wakened often in the night by their condition.

Get a Good Bed

Many people mistake a soft bed for a good bed. But your fluffy mattress may not be the best choice if you have ankylosing spondylitis.

Beds often have too much "give." That is, you sink deep into them - which may seem like a comfortable option at first. However, sleeping in a bed that is too soft may mean that your back is bent in ways that are not healthy. A firm mattress, on the other hand, can help you maintain a healthy and straight resting posture while you sleep.

If you think your bed is too soft or is older than 5 years, it may be time to switch to a firmer mattress. According to the Better Sleep Council, switching to a new mattress can improve back pain, spine stiffness and overall quality of sleep.

Ask Your Doctor If Medications Can Help

If you have ankylosing spondylitis, you may need drug treatment. Managing the pain and inflammation of your condition may help you sleep better through the night.

Medications used to treat ankylosing spondylitis include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve (naproxen) or Indocin (indomethacin)
  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors such as Humira (adalimumab), Enbrel (etanercept) and Remicade (infliximab)
  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone
  • Methotrexate
  • Sulfasalazine

Other Tips for Better Posture and Sleep

If you can afford a new mattress, that's great. But new mattresses are not cheap. If you cannot afford a new, firm mattress, there are other tricks to improve your posture and sleep throughout the night. These include:

  • Place plywood slats underneath your mattress or place the mattress on the floor. A firmer base can make your bed firmer as well.
  • Make a consistent sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day can improve your sleep.
  • Make bedtime a relaxing time. Read a book. Listen to soothing music. Take a hot bath before bed. Ask your partner to give you a massage.
  • Make your bedroom a relaxing environment. Your room should be dark and quiet and comfortable. Use thicker curtains to keep the light out. Use earplugs to sleep through noise. Keep the temperature at a comfortable level.
  • Avoid doing work in the bedroom. Your bed should be used only for sleep and sex.
  • Keep televisions and computers out of the bedroom.
  • Get regular exercise. Physical activity is key to managing ankylosing spondylitis. Without movement, your spine may become stiffer and more painful. In addition, regular exercise can improve your quality of sleep.
  • Put a pillow between your knees when lying on your side or under you knees when lying on your back. Doing so helps keep you spine straight.
  • Avoid using a large pillow for your head. Pillows can lift your head into a position that overextends your neck and spine. Some patients find that using a small pillow or a folded towel under the neck helps maintain a straight back during sleep.
  • Avoid eating or drinking alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes is unhealthy for anyone, especially those with ankylosing spondylitis.
Review Date: 
October 8, 2012