Ask The Expert: Do you have tips for getting a good night's sleep?
One of the many, and most common symptoms of MS is fatigue. So, people often assume that being exhausted all the time would mean that it would be easy to fall asleep and stay asleep. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Insomnia and fatigue often go hand in hand, so we asked our experts to tell us about any tips and tricks they have for getting a good night's sleep.
My mother must have done something magical when I was an infant in training me to sleep because I can be out within a minute or two of laying down in bed. Or else, my MS fatigue is so crushing it is knocking me out. That said, it is not always a good night’s sleep because I get ‘achy’ for lack of a better word, and after 5-6 hours, I begin to toss and turn to find a comfortable position. I’ve taken to sleeping with a few extra pillows tucked in (along with my husband!) and will cradle them in different spots, depending on what way I am positioned. My worst sleep problem is when my brain engages, when it is still dark outside. If I begin thinking about things to do, ideas to write about, etc…. I might as well surrender and get up out of bed. Fortunately, nocturia, (that annoying need to get up and relieve yourself in the middle of the night) is not a problem like it is for so many people I know.
Sleep tips? Keep a regular schedule, don’t drink before bed. Have a comfortable mattress and pillows. Learn to count sheep or other mindless techniques to calm an active brain in the middle of the night. And say your bedtime prayer that it all works for some good sleep.
I like to take a warm bath with Epsom Salt in the water. I also try to make sure there is no background noise or light. If need be, I'll take Melatonin.
Getting good sleep is a constant challenge for me. I find it’s important to limit how many liquids I have in the evening (or I’ll have to keep getting up to use the bathroom). It’s also important for me to be relaxed and distracted before bed, whether it be with a book or something on TV, anything to distract my mind is a must. If I don’t let my mind escape, I’ll get hammered with thoughts about my life with MS. I’ll occasionally utilize medical marijuana before bed as well, to calm down both my mind and my body (pains and spasms sometimes keep me up). Every once in awhile, I will also use an over the counter sleep aid to ensure some rest.
Getting enough sleep is an ongoing challenge. I doze off in front of the television around midnight every night and wake up at 20-minute intervals until 1:30, then drag myself to bed only to become wide awake while my brain chatters away. Sleep does come eventually, but I wake up after only about four or five hours of sleep. However, I can stretch it to seven or more by making myself do the following:
- Being active during the day to the point of exhaustion. It doesn’t take much. Even if I nap in the afternoon, I’ll still sleep longer at night.
- Going to bed earlier, preferably before the time when I start dozing in front of the television, around midnight. There’s something about falling asleep in my recliner first that makes it more difficult to continue sleeping in my bed.
- Putting the pedestal fan near the foot of the bed and aiming it at my face. Setting the fan speed at low or medium, whichever will keep me cooler through the night since I tend to overheat within the next three hours and wake up.
Sleep is something that I’ve struggled with for years and I have found two things that really help me.
- Humidifier with Essential Oils— mine is a Cool Mist Ultrasonic Aroma Essential Oil Diffuser that I bought off of Amazon. My favorite oil is Lemongrass (it smells just like Sleepytime tea.) It relaxes me and helps me fall asleep AND stay asleep—sometimes I rub it on my ankles too.
- Melatonin—if I really am having a hard time falling asleep I will take Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland (small gland in the brain) and helps control your sleep cycle. It is not recommended to take daily therefore I only take 5 MG when I’m really having a bad night.
Many MS symptoms can worsen sleep! Often the key to getting better sleep is to get to the root of the problem. For example:
- Talk to your doctor about your bladder symptoms. If you get up to go the bathroom 4 times a night, chances are you aren’t very well rested!
- I always seem to get overheated at night, which causes pain and spasticity. I switched my bedding, and sleep in cotton pajamas which helps- and of course I have the fan on! Keeping your bedroom room between 60-67 degrees is optimal for sleep as well.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety and depression. Addressing your emotional health often helps you get better sleep.
- A lot of medications and substances, including antidepressants, steroids, medication for fatigue, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine can cause insomnia. If you struggle with falling asleep talk to your doctor about your medication regimen. Sometimes just switching a medication to the morning or earlier in the day can make a huge difference!
I also did a webinar on this topic, feel free to pick out more ideas from the article that accompanied it: Sleep and MS Strategies for Improving your ZZZs
Each person is different; but for me, the challenges to getting a good night’s sleep are related to stiffness and tight muscles, an occasional uneasy feeling, and warm, furry creatures that provide lots of love. To tackle stiffness and tight muscles, I combine medication with careful stretching. The three areas I stretch include: 1) thigh, front of hip, and front of knee; 2) calves, back of knee, and Achilles tendon; and 3) hamstrings. To feel more comfortable, I may take an extra shower to help me relax and go to bed in clean pajamas.
Since my cats will wake me up every morning between 5:00 and 6:30 AM for breakfast, my sleep is often cut short. To try to delay this early morning awakening, I will give our three cats a little snack before bedtime. Sometimes it helps and other times, it probably makes no difference. But at least it gives me the hope as I fall asleep that it won’t feel like I’m being woken up in the middle of the night to feed the furry masters of the house.
How about you? Do you have any tips to share for getting a good night's sleep? Tell us in the comments below!
Do you live with any comorbidities aside from MS?