Knee pain makes it hard to sleep at night. Certain tools like knee pillows, heating pads, and pain-relieving ointments can make you more comfortable. But you’ll also need to treat the underlying cause of your pain.
There are several possible reasons for knee pain.
A common cause is arthritis, which involves joint pain and inflammation. It can affect any joint in the body, but it often affects the knees.
Swelling, stiffness, and pain can prevent you from doing daily activities, including walking long distances and going up and down the stairs. It may also affect how you sleep at night.
Other possible causes of knee pain include overuse injuries like tendinitis. Additionally, if you have hip or foot pain, it can put stress on your knees and cause pain.
If your knee pain keeps you up at night, here’s what you can do to feel more comfortable and relaxed.
To ease knee pain while in bed, try the following methods:
Adding cushion support
To find a comfortable sleep position, use a pillow to support the painful parts.
You can put the pillow:
- between your knees, if you sleep on your side
- under your knees, if you sleep on your back
You may want to try specially designed propping pillows.
Getting out of bed
If knee pain makes it difficult to get into or out of bed, this may put off going to bed. It can also make it harder to get up for the bathroom.
The following may help:
- Satin sheets or pajamas. Satin sheets or pajamas are slippery and reduce friction that leads to tugging. They also make it easier to make subtle adjustments in your sleeping position.
- Raise the bed level. Putting a brick or wooden block under the legs of your bed can help raise it so that you don’t have so far to bend your knees when you get in or out of bed.
Applying heat or ice
Heat and cold can help you manage pain and inflammation.
The following tips may help:
- Apply a heating pad or an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes before bed.
- Use a hot water bottle during the night.
- Massage a topical medication containing capsaicin on the affected area before sleeping.
Remember to wrap the ice pack in a towel to prevent damage to your skin.
Taking a warm bath
Before bed, soak in a warm bath. The warm water will help improve blood flow and relieve knee pain by relaxing tight muscles.
Being active and managing stress
If you’re not tired at the end of the day, it can be harder to get to sleep. If possible, make sure your routine includes:
- Regular exercise. Water-based exercises are good options as they take the weight off your knees. Tai chi and yoga can help with strength and flexibility. Exercise can also help reduce stress.
- Social activities. Attending a day center, joining a club, or spending time with friends, family, or neighbors can help you get out and about.
Increased stress can also increase pain levels and lower pain tolerance levels.
If you’re concerned that your stress and anxiety levels are too high or never seem to go away, speak with a doctor. They may be able to help with counseling or medication.
Massaging your knee
Massaging your knee before bed may provide some relief. The technique improves blood flow and warms up the area, which may help ease the pain.
To make the knee massage more comfortable, apply lotion or oil first. Stop if you feel any pain or discomfort.
A suitable environment and regular sleeping habits can help improve sleep quality.
Establish a bedtime routine that prepares you to wind down.
Spending 20 minutes in a warm bath before bed is relaxing, and it may also soothe aching joints and make sleep arrive more quickly. You could light candles or play your favorite low-key music while you soak.
Other relaxation options include:
Make bedtime a ritual you look forward to.
Adjusting the room temperature
Make sure the temperature of your room is not too hot or cold. This will help create a more comfortable sleeping environment.
In general, the ideal sleep environment temperature is 65°F (18.3°C).
Changing your mattress or bedding
A good mattress is essential for a good night’s rest. However, if your mattress is not firm enough for your sleeping style, it may cause pain. The same goes if your mattress is old.
Consider investing in a new mattress for pain-free nights. You may also want to change your bedding if it’s inappropriate for the current season. For example, if you’re using a thin blanket in the winter, it might help to use thicker blankets or multiple layers.
Limiting blue light exposure before bed
The sun and electronic devices, such as screens emit blue light. It can make it difficult to sleep if you’re exposed to it at night.
Try to avoid blue light before bedtime. To do this, consider:
- leaving phones and other electronic devices outside of the bedroom
- turning off electronic devices
- avoiding using screens before bed
- wearing amber-colored glasses if you must use a screen
If you’re easily awakened by sunlight in the morning, consider installing blackout blinds or curtains in your room.
Creating a quieter environment
Like light exposure, noise can disrupt your sleep. Consider following these tips to reduce noise:
- closing the door if other people are still up and about
- wearing earplugs
- using a fan or humidifier for white noise
Avoiding large meals before bed
Large meals can disrupt your sleep because they take a long time to digest. Therefore, it’s best to eat light snacks if you’re hungry at night.
It’s also recommended to avoid the following close to bedtime:
- high fat foods
- high protein foods
- spicy food
Similarly, avoid drinking too much fluid close to bedtime. Otherwise, you might need to wake up during the night to use the bathroom.
Avoiding caffeine late in the day
Try not to consume caffeinated foods and drinks late in the day. Caffeine can keep you awake for several hours.
Foods and drinks with caffeine include:
- energy drinks
- caffeinated tea, like black tea
- some sodas
Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends or days off can help your body establish a regular sleep schedule.
Over-the-counter medications can help relieve inflammation in some cases. These include:
- oral medications, such as acetaminophen
- topical preparations, such as capsaicin
Sometimes, OTC medications aren’t strong enough to ease the pain. If so, your doctor may prescribe a stronger alternative.
If pain keeps you awake, you may need to adjust the timing of your medications. Your doctor can help you decide if changing your dosing schedule might provide more nighttime pain relief.
Some medications can make you drowsy. If you find you’re napping during the day after starting a new drug, speak with your doctor about it. They may suggest changing to another option or reducing the dosage.
If you have osteoarthritis, medication and lifestyle changes may help manage symptoms.
However, if the pain becomes severe and starts to affect your mobility and quality of life, your doctor may recommend knee replacement surgery.
You may also require surgery if you have other knee problems, such as:
Overusing the knee joint can make the discomfort worse.
“When people are walking around and not paying attention to their knees all day and then you lie down, you start feeling that inflammation from the day,” Podesta says.
Dr. Podesta makes these recommendations:
- If you’re walking a long distance, take breaks to let your knees rest.
- Instead of running on a treadmill, exercise on a bicycle or an elliptical to reduce strain on the joints.
- If you experience pain with a specific activity, stop that activity and think about how you’re moving. It’s likely you’ll need to make a change.
- Try water exercises. A lot of pool-based activities are helpful because they take some of the gravitational force off your knees.
- Avoid stairs whenever possible.
- Maintain a moderate weight. Reducing your body weight to a moderate level helps to reduce the amount of strain your body puts on its joints.
If you develop knee pain of any kind, make an appointment with a doctor for an evaluation. They can determine what’s causing your symptoms and suggest the best possible treatment.
You should also see a doctor if you have:
- worsening pain
- severe pain
- difficulty walking
- knee joint that appears deformed
- joint popping
- extreme swelling
To relieve knee pain at night, try supporting your knees with a cushion. You can also take a warm bath, apply ice or heat, and massage your knee to ease the pain.
During the day, do your best to stay active. Regular exercise and stretching can manage knee pain and help you fall asleep more quickly at night. Also, consider using satin sheets or pajamas to make it easier to move around in bed.
If you have new knee pain for any reason, speak with a doctor. You should also get medical help if you have joint popping, swelling, or difficulty walking.