If creating an arthritis-friendly bedroom is not on the top of your To-Do list, consider this: The majority of us spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping (or, and the very least, attempting to sleep.) And for people living with different kinds of arthritis, the percentage of time spent in bed may be even greater. Between fatigue, malaise, and general discomfort, many people with arthritis find that their bed is the most comfortable place to be when dealing with a flare.
But even the most comfortable bed can’t guarantee a good night’s sleep for people with arthritis. Achy, stiff, swollen joints can make it hard to find a comfortable position to make you fall asleep or stay asleep, which means you may wake up frequently through the night due to discomfort, says Varsha Seemangal, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. There’s even a name for this all-too familiar arthritis symptom: painsomnia, or the inability to sleep due to pain in your body.
But creating an arthritis-friendly bedroom helps with more than just sleep. It can also help with other daily tasks that become burdensome with arthritis, such as getting dressed. “Adjusting a bedroom once you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis is important because it helps to decrease the load placed on your joints while performing your activities of daily living,” says Seemangal.
From mattresses to pillows to light fixtures and more, here’s what experts recommended prioritizing to create a safe and arthritis-friendly bedroom.
Mind your mattress
Buying a mattress that’s comfortable for you is highly personal. It is a good idea to check with your doctor or physical therapist before buying a new mattress for their advice. But as a general rule, you will likely want to avoid a too-soft sleeping surface if you have arthritis.
“A firm mattress is advised because it supports the joints of the body better than a soft mattress, which will allow the body to sink into it, thus creating an unsupportive environment for the joints while the body is relaxed,” says Seemangal.
Since buying a mattress is a personal preference, and there’s lots of varieties to choose (memory foam, pillow top, purple, etc.), occupational therapist Carol Dodge, OTRL, CHT, suggests heading to the store for a test run prior to making a purchase. “Lie on your back, roll from side to side, get on and off the mattress a few times to ensure that it’s comfortable and that you can move around in the bed,” she says.
But how can you tell if it’s time for a new mattress? The National Sleep Foundation recommends watching out for these telltale signs:
- It’s at least six to eight years old
- It’s saggy or damaged in certain areas
- It’s more noisy than usual
- You find yourself sleeping better on other mattresses (hotels, friends’ homes, etc.)
- You wake up with joint pain and stiffness (beyond your usual arthritis symptoms)
Consider your bed height
If you happen to be in the market for a new bed, be sure to consider its height, as bending down too low to get into bed can increase strain on the joints. “Selecting a bed that is too low would also make it difficult to go from sitting to standing in the morning, when most arthritis sufferers awake with increased stiffness in their joints,” says Seemangal.
Dodge agrees, adding that “a bed that’s higher is easier to transfer on and off than something that is lower to the ground.” You can also consider certain kinds of adjustable beds that make it easier to get in and out of.
Make bed-making more manageable
Who doesn’t love a tidy well-made bed? But pulling, tugging, and wrestling with bed sheets isn’t exactly easy on your joints. One solution is to go bigger. “If you have a full-size bed, get a queen fitted sheet, and if you have a queen-size bed, get a California king so there’s more slack,” says Dodge. Sizing up is also a smart idea for pillowcases.
A long-handled wooden spoon can also help you tuck top sheets under the mattress. (You can use the spoon to nudge the sides of the top sheet under the mattress so you don’t have to lift the heavy mattress yourself.) Zip sheets, which consists of a sheet base and top sheet that zips on and off, are also an option.
Think light and breathable
If you have arthritis in the feet, ankle, or knees, the weight of your sheets and blankets can create added pressure in the middle of the night, so look for lightweight bedding. “Sheets and blankets, as well as sleepwear, are all recommended to be a breathable fabric to allow for air flow from the body throughout the night,” says Seemangal.
Make sure that your blanket isn’t too heavy, says Dodge, noting that her lightweight down comforter is surprisingly lighter and easier to move on and off than a heavier, thinner blanket.
Experiment with ‘throw pillow therapy’
Eliminating a ton of decorative pillows can simplify the process of making the bed. However, it’s a good idea to keep a few throw pillows or a body pillow handy, says Dodge. You can use them while you sleep to cushion sore joints; their small sizes make them easy to position around different painful areas. Having a few extra pillows around can also be helpful if you have a flare in the middle of the night and need to elevate a part of your body.
Just don’t overdo it, especially when it comes to your neck. “In general, you want your pillow to be a height that supports a neutral spine position, especially for people with arthritis in their neck,” says Seemangal.
Keep your meds by your bed
If you wake up with a horrible flare, you may want to take your medication and then hit the snooze button for another hour or so to let it kick in before you have to get up and start moving. If this technique works for you, consider storing pain medication along with a bottle of water on your bedside table to make them easier to reach. (Of course, make sure they are not accessible to children or pets.)
Set the right temperature
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal sleep temperature in your home is a cool 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. But people with arthritis should consider sleeping in a slightly warmer room because “colder temperatures can cause the joints to stiffen and tighten up even more, leading to a more uncomfortable sleep,” says Seemangal.
Consider layering a few light bedsheets to make middle-of-the-night temperature adjustments easier.
Light the way
In order to safely navigate your bedroom at night, Dodge recommends investing in nightstand lamps as well as light-sensitive or motion-activated nightlights. Automatic touch lamps are particularly user-friendly to the joints, she says, so you don’t have to fiddle with small lamp nobs.
Secure your rugs
While an area or scatter rug is great for warming cool wooden floors that are unforgiving to stiff joints, they can also be a hazard if not secured properly. In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Injury and Violence Research, nearly 38,000 people age 65 and over require a trip to the ER each year due to falls caused by loose rugs or carpets.
Dodge suggests placing a large piece of carpet under your bed or weighing down smaller rugs with heavy furniture like a dresser or armoire so they can’t slide around as easily. If that doesn’t work with the layout of your bedroom, you can also invest in some rug tape to secure the edges of an area rug.
Avoid overstuffed drawers and closets
Pulling out a heavy drawer full of clothing or trying to separate hangers in an overcrowded closet is tough on your joints, says Dodge.
Do your best to arrange your clothing so it’s easily accessible and you don’t need to bend or reach to grab your everyday items. “You want to avoid having to bend down too low to get to drawers,” says Seemangal. To help make room and avoid crowding, move seasonal clothing that you’re not using at the moment to the back or top of your closet.
Replace small round knobs
If opening and closing drawers is hard on your hands, consider replacing smaller knobs with more arthritis-friendly hardware like larger pull-knobs, says Dodge, or C- or D-shaped handles or pulls that will enable you to have a better grip.
Try a sleep app
If pain from your arthritis (as well as other issues like anxiety, which is very common in chronic illness) is making it hard to fall asleep, Dodge recommends downloading a white noise or storytelling app to help you relax and take your focus off of your pain.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following apps for better slumber: Headspace, Noisli, Pzizz, Slumber, Calm, 10% Happier, and Sleep Easy.
Participate in Arthritis Research — From Your Smartphone
If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.
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Interview with Varsha Seemangal, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City
Interview with Carol Dodge, OTRL, CHT
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