Loving a spouse in pain affects your sleep and well-being

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Research shows how patients in chronic pain affect the other spouse's sleep
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According to a study recently published in the journal PAIN®, a patient’s chronic pain affects their spouse’s emotional well-being and marital satisfaction.

The researchers chose to examine the effects of chronic knee pain on the other spouse’s sleep because it often causes difficulties staying comfortable in bed at night for many patients, not to mention that the resulting restlessness may disturb the patient's partner.

For the study, the research team collected data from 145 couples who recorded their levels of pain, sleep quality and how rested or refreshed they felt over 22 consecutive night of sleep. All of the participants were at least 50 years old, and were married or living together in long-term relationships.

Results from the study showed that the greater a patient's knee pain was at the end of the day, the worse quality of sleep their spouse experienced that night.

The study, led by Dr. Lynn Martire of the Department of Human Development & Family Studies at Penn State University, determined that couples who reported a high degree of closeness in their marriage experienced a stronger association between pain levels and the spouse's ability to sleep restfully.

The results also suggest that chronic pain may put the spouse's health at risk; thus, indicating an important therapeutic target for couples.

"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," explained Dr. Martire. "Spouses whose sleep is compromised may also be less able to respond empathically to patients' symptoms and need for support."

The research team predicted that closer relationships would yield stronger results, and they were correct, finding that in spouses with a closer relationship, patient pain resulted in "less refreshing sleep for spouses."

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"Compromised sleep caused by exposure to a loved one's suffering may be one pathway to spousal caregivers' increased risk for health problems, including cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Martire.

"In developing behavioral couple-oriented interventions for arthritis, it is important to identify the couples in which the spouse is most affected by patient suffering," Martire added. "Our findings suggest that assessing the extent to which partners are closely involved in each other's lives would help to identify spouses who are especially at risk for being affected by patient symptoms and in need of strategies for maintaining their own health and well-being."

Eligible participants for the study were husbands or wives who had been diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis by a physician, and who experienced usual knee pain of moderate or great intensity.

Additional data analysis revealed the following:

• Patients' reports of sleep quality did not significantly correlate with their pain on the previous day, but they did relate to beginning-of-day reports of pain.

• When patients reported greater knee pain at the end of the day, their spouses slept poorly that night and reported feeling less refreshed the following morning.

• Spouses who reported symptoms of depression and negative moods upon awakening were more likely to experience poor sleep quality and less refreshing sleep.

• In close relationships, the greater a patient's pain, the less refreshing the sleep for the spouse.

SOURCE: PAIN, Volume 154, Issue 9 (September 2013), "The Impact of Daily Arthritis Pain on Spouse Sleep," by Lynn Martire, PhD; Francis J. Keefe, PhD; Richard Schulz, PhD; Mary Ann Parris Stephens, PhD; Jacqueline a. Mogle, PhD (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2013.05.020).

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