Sleep, Sleep Disorders and How to Sleep Better

Considering there are so many physical symptoms associated with Multiple Sclerosis, including debilitating fatigue, it is interesting to me that there is a absence of research in the area of sleep and MS. We know that a lack of sleep can have a variety of negative side effects on the human body, so it would make sense that for an MS body, sleep is incredibly important.

Sleep Deprivation:

Sleep deprivation can put an individual at risk for autoimmune disease. Even just mild insomnia will increase risk of autoimmune disease by around 50%. Specifically, when dealing with sleep deprivation, the risk of rheumatoid arthritis goes up by 45%, Sjogrens syndrome by 51%, ankylosing spondylitis by 53% and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) goes up by a whopping 81%. Those are pretty incredible statistics.  One study discussed findings that stated when the sleep cycle is disrupted, there is an increase in T cells in the body. T cells are immune cells, and are implicated in many autoimmune disorders. When there are too many T cells, the immune system becomes overactive and starts causing problems, like autoimmune disease.

Sleep and Multiple Sclerosis:

It’s clear that not getting enough sleep can affect your life in a multitude of ways, and you probably didn’t have to read this article to know that either. But how else can sleep affect us, especially the MSers? I know from personal experience, as I bet you do too, that after a night of fitful sleep, I just feel worse. I experience my MS symptoms stronger and I have a lower tolerance for them as well. Research is showing just how important sleep is to individuals with MS. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin are discovering that during sleep a specific brain cell called oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) doubles during sleep versus during waking hours. These specific brain cells are responsible for the production and repair of myelin. I’d say that’s a pretty important thing for us!

Sleep disorders in people with MS are largely undiagnosed. However, 38 percent of people in a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine stated they had moderate to severe insomnia and as much as 52 percent stated it took them over an hour to fall asleep. Nevertheless, only 4 percent of those people reported being diagnosed with a sleep disorder.

Types of insomnia:

Initial insomnia:

  • This is when an individual has difficulty falling asleep initially. Pain, spasticity, medication or anxiety can make it difficult for someone to fall asleep.

Middle insomnia

  • This occurs when an individual wakes up in the middle of the night and struggles to fall back to sleep. It seems that people who experience more fatigue during the day can experience more middle insomnia, the reasons for this are unclear at this time.
  • Middle insomnia can also be caused by noctouria, or waking up due to having to go to the bathroom or blood sugar changes.

Terminal insomnia

  • This type of insomnia occurs when someone wakes up too early. The correlation between this insomnia and MS are not quite understood.

So what can we do about getting more sleep? Thankfully, there are many things we can do!

  • Get daily exercise. Even if it just taking a walk, doing yoga or light stretching, any exercise can be helpful to your sleep patterns.
  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol after 12pm or in the afternoon.
  • Get exposure to natural light during the day. This will make sure that your circadian rhythms are in check!
  • Make a bedtime routine and stick to it. Include a bed time, relaxation and no electronics!
  • Keep your bedroom cool. Having the temperature lower will help you sleep better!
  • If you can’t fall asleep, don’t lay in bed forever. This will increase your anxiety and make it even harder to fall asleep. Instead, get up and read a book, color, do some other activity that will relax you, but not wind you up. No TV!

“Just get more sleep” isn’t as easy as it sounds. Stress, spasticity, pain and depression can all impact quality and quantity of sleep. Finding ways to control the symptoms that disrupt our sleep is key in improving quality of sleep and therefore quality of life.

Have you found something that works for you? I’d love to know! Leave a note in the comments and tell me about it!

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