Getting A Good Night's Sleep With MS? A New Study May Be Onto Something

Last updated: November 2021

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” ~Thomas Dekker

When I was first diagnosed with MS one of my chief complaints was the overwhelming fatigue I suffered every day. Like most people with MS, my fatigue left me no choice but to nap, pace myself and sit whenever possible.

I was less productive, my thoughts had less clarity and I felt like less of a person.

Without hesitation (or a proper diagnosis) my doctor prescribed Provigil, a popular medication used to improve daily wakefulness in patients.

It didn’t do the trick.

Instead of keeping me awake, Provigil introduced me to fatigue’s nighttime nemesis: insomnia. Becoming friends with 3AM is not a whole lot of fun.  Neither is being wide awake with the knowledge that your alarm clock will soon loudly ring to remind you it’s time to start another busy day.

I was young, inexperienced about my MS, and frantic about what to do.

The doctors decided to prescribe Ambien, a popular medication used to treat insomnia. It worked wonders. I began sleeping for 6 delicious hours every night.

It was a miracle.

But every miracle runs its course, and after 20 years (you read that right – 20 years!) of Ambien addiction I decided to consult with my doctor to carefully wean me off the drug.

When I was done, I was back to square one. How was I going to get a good night’s sleep?

Since then I’ve done everything I could to get a restful night’s sleep. I spent a night at a sleep study clinic, tried various prescription and over-the-counter medications, practiced meditation, learned sleep-inducing yoga poses, experimented with herbs, and to this day I use a sound machine, ear plugs and an eye mask.

Now that I’m older and more knowledgeable about MS, I’m not willing to rely on prescription medications as the be-all and end-all for my MS ailments.  In my opinion the root causes need to be studied before thoughtlessly handing out prescriptions. That’s why I was happy to read about a recent study at UC Davis that is studying sleep problems in people with MS.

The study, conducted with over 2,300 participants, stressed “the importance of diagnosing the root causes of fatigue among individuals with MS, as sleep disorders may affect the course of the disease as well as the overall health and well-being of sufferers.” They found that problems with sleep in the MS population go largely undiagnosed and untreated. 

Bottom line?

“Sleep disorder frequency, sleep patterns and complaints of excessive daytime sleepiness suggest that sleep problems may be a hidden epidemic in the MS population.” 

I don’t think this is news for anyone living with MS but it’s a start, and perhaps it will lead to newer and better ways of treating insomnia.

The function of sleep is to recharge our batteries.  We walk, talk, think and are more productive after a good night’s sleep. With MS our legs, arms and brains function better.

What can we do?

Here are a few tips from The National Sleep Foundation to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  • Exercise daily. With MS this is not always possible, so do whatever you can within your abilities.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Avoid bright light at night and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning.
  • Spend the last hour before bedtime doing a relaxing activity, such as reading.
  • If you can’t sleep and can get to another room, try that.  Do something relaxing until you feel tired.
  • Use a Sleep Diary to help you evaluate common patterns or problems with your sleeping habits.

If you still feel tired, speak with your medical team or find a sleep professional.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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