Study objectives: Osteoarthritis pain affects more than half of all older adults, many of whom experience co-morbid sleep disturbance. Pain initiates and exacerbates sleep disturbance, whereas disturbed sleep maintains and exacerbates pain, which implies that improving the sleep of patients with osteoarthritis may also reduce their pain. We examined this possibility in a secondary analysis of a previously published randomized controlled trial of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) in patients with osteoarthritis and co-morbid insomnia.
Methods: Twenty-three patients (mean age 69.2 years) were randomly assigned to CBT-I and 28 patients (mean age 66.5 years) to an attention control. Neither directly addressed pain management. Twelve subjects crossed over to CBT-I after control treatment. Sleep and pain were assessed by self-report at baseline, after treatment, and (for CBT-I only) at 1-year follow-up.
Results: CBT-I subjects reported significantly improved sleep and significantly reduced pain after treatment. Control subjects reported no significant improvements. One-year follow-up found maintenance of improved sleep and reduced pain for both the CBT-I group alone and among subjects who crossed over from control to CBT-I.
Conclusions: CBT-I but not an attention control, without directly addressing pain control, improved both immediate and long-term self-reported sleep and pain in older patients with osteoarthritis and comorbid insomnia. These results are unique in suggesting the long-term durability of CBT-I effects for co-morbid insomnia. They also indicate that improving sleep, per se, in patients with osteoarthritis may result in decreased pain. Techniques to improve sleep may be useful additions to pain management programs in osteoarthritis, and possibly other chronic pain conditions as well.