10 Sleep Hygiene Tips for People with MS
Human beings need a little more than 8 hours of solid sleep a night in order to maintain good health. If people with MS get significantly less, it may be due to their condition. However, a lot of sleep problems are not related to medical problems but can be easily, and affordably, corrected through proper sleep hygiene.
What is sleep hygiene?
These include sleep habits, environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and bedtime rituals. Sleep hygiene is the first place to look for ways to improve one’s sleep health. Many problems with sleep can be eradicated by tending to one’s own sleep hygiene.
Often, doctors will ask patients with sleep problems to account for their sleep hygiene first before moving forward with diagnostic testing or prescribing therapies for their sleep problems. This usually means the patient will keep a sleep diary which reports activities of daily living like eating, alcohol consumption, prescription use, current medical condition status, and exercise, as well as sleep habits.
Fixing poor habits can often take care of most patients’ sleep problems, or at least reduce their impact on overall health. Below find 10 sleep hygiene tips for people with MS!
1. Pain management
Pain can make sleep difficult, if not impossible. If you are experiencing pain, do whatever you can to manage it. Why?
Unrelieved pain leads to sleep loss which leads to higher pain sensitivity. Massage, topical medications, prescription drugs, and wearable devices can all deliver some measure of pain relief.
Ask your MS neurologist for the best solutions for your particular problems.
2. Marijuana use
Many people use marijuana to manage pain, as well as to help defeat insomnia.
Be wary, however, that withdrawal of marijuana may lead to significant problems with sleep, including insomnia and intense unpleasant dreams.
Research on marijuana as a sleep aid is still scant and includes only short-term data on very small populations.
Studies do not agree on the impact of medical marijuana or THC as it relates to sleep architecture, in particular, on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This stage is known for its importance to decluttering the brain, removing toxic waste products (such as beta-amyloid, known for its relationship to Alzheimer’s), and consolidating memory.
More long-term, large-scale population research is still needed to better understand the effect of marijuana on the brain during periods of sleep, as poor memory, cognitive dysfunction, and the presence of toxins in the brain are all matters of concern for those with multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions.
3. The timing of medication
Some medications are best taken at bedtime, while others are better taken in the morning.
Neuroscience researchers continue to identify circadian aspects to medications as they pertain to brain function and processes like sleeping and wakefulness.
If you suspect one of your medications could be causing you sleep troubles, work with your MS neurologist and pharmacist to determine if this might be the case.
Often, simply moving a medication to a different time of day can help with daytime sleepiness or insomnia.
4. Bedtime screen exposure
As people with MS, we are all in need of support and one of the best places to find it at any time, day or night, is the Internet (including right here in our forum!).
However, exposure to the backlit screens of electronic devices after the sun has gone down can lead to severely disrupted circadian rhythms. This is because the blue light waves that our gadgets emit, when perceived by the human eye, literally signal to the brain to stay awake.
We need our sleep at night, and delaying or disrupting it through the use of mobile phones, handheld game devices, tablets, or computers can be a big part of our society-wide problem with sleep deprivation.
Some ways to offset these problems:
- Simply turn off your gadgets at least 1 hour before bedtime and start winding down for sleep
- Charge your phone or other device in a nearby bathroom so that it is out of sight, out of mind at bedtime
- Use the “do not disturb” feature to block notifications, rings, and chimes from your phone to allow you to take a break after a certain hour of the night
Note: If any of these things is hard for you to do, consider that cellphone and Internet addiction are serious problems of modern life that you may need to address.
If you work at night and can’t avoid a backlit screen, consider:
- Using built-in screen filtering software, if available
- Wearing blue-blocking gamer’s or computer glasses (these can be with or without prescription)
- Physically applying blue-blocking shields to your screens
5. Bedtime and rise time
A consistent bedtime and rise time can do wonders for your sleep. But the keyword here is consistent. Your best bet is to go to bed at the same time every night, and to rise at the same time every day.
If you’re not sleepy at the same time every night, consider this: our brains and bodies develop what is known as a “sleep drive” (or sleep pressure) during the day which reflects how soon it will take us to feel sleepy again upon rising. If you nap or sleep in, your sleep drive will be delayed.
Knowing this, you are best off rising at the same time every single day, and going to bed as soon as you are sleepy at night.
Do this consistently for a few weeks and you’ll find yourself resetting your circadian system to a healthier pattern.
Let’s face it, MS causes stress beyond the normal stress of living. Finding ways to relax, not only at bedtime, but during the day, is paramount if you want to be able to fall asleep easily at night.
Breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy are all great ways to learn how to chase away anxiety at bedtime (and even during the day).
7. Sleep environment
The brain and body need a cool, dark, quiet place to sleep well.
- Use a fan or air conditioning, or open a window, on hot nights, or layer your bedding so you can add or subtract it to help keep your room cool.
- Wear an eye mask if your bedroom is not completely dark. Even a full moon can shine enough light to mess with your sleep.
- Earplugs, a white noise machine, or headphones designed for sleep can help block out nuisance noise so you can get the best sleep ever.
8. Meal time
What you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat it all factor into sleep hygiene.
Avoid late-night meals full of fat-laden or sugary foods, and eat smaller portions if possible. The digestive system slows down at night and struggles with heavy meals if eaten too close to bedtime.
In fact, the timing and portion of meals have a significant impact on your circadian rhythms.
Avoid caffeinated foods after 3pm, as well.
9. Exercise habits
One of the best things you can do to keep your circadian rhythms on a proper schedule is to exercise first thing in the morning. It doesn’t need to be heavy exercise; even a 10-minute walk outside (in natural light) can be extremely helpful.
Whatever physical exercise works for you is best, but try to avoid doing to much right before bed: your body will be amped up on adrenaline and that can slow down your sleep drive as well.
10. Nap timing
Many MSers rely on daytime naps to defend against fatigue. Naps are a great way to restore energy and give yourself a needed boost.
However, napping for too long can disrupt your circadian system and lead to problems with sleeping at bedtime.
Limit your naps to 30 minutes at a time, if possible. That’s just enough sleep to achieve refreshment without cutting into your rhythms.
Also, planned naps are far better than incidental ones: if you find yourself falling asleep throughout the day, please talk to your MS neurologist, as you may have a legitimate sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome that needs to be addressed.