PITTSBURGH, Feb. 22, 2011 – Poor sleep quality correlated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, more severe pain, increased fatigue and greater functional disability in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), according to a study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing recently published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The study suggests that addressing sleep problems may have a critical impact on the health and quality of life of patients with RA.

Faith S. Luyster, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Nursing, led the study of 162 patients with RA. Participants completed several questionnaires, which asked about their sleep quality, depression, fatigue, functional disability and pain severity.

Results showed that sleep quality had an indirect effect on functional disability after controlling for age, gender and number of comorbidities. According to results of one of the questionnaires, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, 61 percent of patients were poor sleepers and 33 percent reported pain that disturbed their sleep three or more times per week.

“Not sleeping well at night can contribute to greater pain sensitivity and fatigue during the day, which in turn can limit a patient’s ability to engage in activities of daily living and discretionary activities,” Dr. Luyster said. “These results highlight the importance of addressing sleep complaints among patients with RA. By treating sleep problems either pharmacologically or behaviorally, symptoms and activity limitations associated with RA may be reduced.”  

Collaborators on the study were Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., dean, School of Nursing, and Eileen Chasens, D.S.N., R.N., assistant professor, School of Nursing.

RA is an inflammatory disease affecting about 1.3 million U.S. adults, and causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. Dis­turbed sleep has been found to be a major concern among persons with RA.

The study was funded with grants from the National Institute of Health.