If your spouse suffers from chronic pain, your sleep, mood and health may suffer as well, according to a new study published in the journal Pain.
Researchers studied the sleep patterns of 138 osteoarthritis patients and their spouses over 22 consecutive nights. The patients had moderate to intense pain in their knees, were at least 50-years old, and were married or in long term relationships.
Couples were asked to keep a daily diary of their pain levels, quality of sleep, and levels of feeling rested or refreshed in the morning.
“Sleep is a critical health behavior, and individuals whose sleep is affected by their partner’s pain are at risk for physical and psychiatric problems. Spouses whose sleep is compromised may also be less able to respond empathically to patients’ symptoms and need for support,” said lead investigator Lynn Martire, of Penn State University.
Martire and his colleagues found that when patients reported higher levels of knee pain at the end of the day, their spouses slept poorly and felt less refreshed in the morning. Spouses who awoke depressed and in a bad mood were more likely to have had poor sleep quality and less refreshing sleep. However, a spouse’s difficulty in sleeping did not appear to affect patient pain the next day.
Couples who expressed a high degree of closeness in their marriage had the strongest association between patient pain and the spouse’s difficulty in getting a good night’s sleep. Many patients with knee pain have trouble getting comfortable in bed and staying asleep, and their restlessness can disturb their partner’s sleep.
“Although the effects of patient pain on spouse sleep were small in magnitude, such daily changes likely accumulate over time to harm spouse health,” Martire said. “Compromised sleep caused by exposure to a loved one’s suffering may be one pathway to spousal caregivers’ increased risk of health problems including cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers said their findings suggest that health care providers identify the types of couples they are treating for couple-oriented interventions for arthritis.