How to Keep MS from Stealing Your Zzzzs

They say there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately for approximately half of people living with multiple sclerosis, getting a full eight hours is but a dream.

Quality sleep is crucial for your physical and cognitive health; and because helping you to play a more active role in the management of your condition is the ultimate goal of My Body, My Mind, My Say, we’ve compiled the latest research on MS and sleep, as well as tips and tricks for a better bedtime.

Fatigue is one of the most challenging symptoms of MS, affecting at least 75% of people at some stage – and sleep disturbance appears to be an important factor.

Brain changes can contribute to that tired-all-the-time feeling you may know all-too-well. But it’s symptoms you might not readily connect with MS that are the real sleep-stealers, including nocturnal leg spasms, pain and bladder issues.

MS and restless leg syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS, a condition of the nervous system that causes the uncontrollable urge to move the legs) seems to be particularly common among people with MS. In fact, one study of 156 MS patients, found about one third had the condition. The tingling, creeping sensation in the legs understandably makes it harder to get to sleep at night, but RLS is also associated with involuntary jerking of the arms and legs – so even if you do manage to doze off, you may wake yourself up with a jolt during the night.

Disorders like sleep apnoea

If you’re getting plenty of shut-eye but still waking up exhausted, the quality of your sleep might be poor thanks to a sleep disorder. One study of people with MS found a significant proportion had one or more sleep disorders they weren’t even aware of.

One of these common sleep-thieves is sleep apnoea. Brain changes brought on by MS can affect breathing during sleep, which becomes uncoordinated. As a result, oxygen levels are lower than they should be during the night, so the body isn’t refreshed the way it should be. In one study, more than half of the people with MS tested were found to have this problem, without even realising it.

Anxiety and insomnia

Many sleep problems occur because of secondary factors such as stress, inactivity, or depression, which again are all too common in people with MS. Around a third of people with MS suffer from anxiety, for example, a common cause of insomnia.

Ways to help get those Zzzzs

Talking to your doctor is the best thing you can do if you’re tired and struggling to sleep. There are plenty of ways to treat sleep disorders, from lifestyle changes, to medication and counselling. Often treating symptoms that can disrupt sleep, such as an overactive bladder or spasticity, can make a huge difference in your nights. Here are a few other ways to help you get those eight hours:

• Get outside: Natural light helps to set your body clock and regulate sleep hormones – making fresh air one of the best sleep remedies ever. Exercise can also aid sleep, so taking a stroll outdoors is a double win.

• Practise good sleep habits: Sticking to a strict bedtime routine can help to set your biological clock and aid a good night’s sleep. That means going to bed at the same time every night and setting your alarm to wake you up at the same time every day – no matter how much you crave a lie-in!

• Switch off gadgets: Avoid TV and computer screens at least an hour before bed as the blue light can suppress levels of the sleep hormone melatonin.

• Create a haven: Make sure your bedroom is clutter-free, cool and dark. Put up blackout blinds, if need be, to block out light.

• Limit lattes: Caffeine is such a powerful stimulant it can affect sleep for up to six hours after your last sip. Caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, and cola, and even chocolate, could stop you getting the sleep you need, so it’s best to avoid them – particularly in the second half of the day.

• Speak to your doctor: Yes, we know we said this one already, but it’s worth repeating! Lack of sleep can have a serious impact on health for everyone but especially for people who already struggle with MS symptoms. One study found sleep is associated with myelin repair, thanks to increased production of brain cells called oligodendrocyte precursor cells while you snooze. This may be why restful sleep can help to ease many of the common symptoms of MS, including chronic fatigue, and mood and memory problems.

A good night’s sleep could be just what you need if you’re living with MS. So stop tossing and turning and speak to your doctor. And treat yourself to some new jammies while you’re at – if you’re going to be having sweet dreams, you may as well do it in style!

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Angela Brandt
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Angela Brandt
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