The Hot and the Cold of It: How Temperature Changes Can Affect My MS Body
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I’m not going to tell you what you should do about this. It’s not that I’m holding out on you, it’s just that I know you’ve read the official facts and advice doled out in MOMENTUM, MSFOCUS, and MS News Today. You know about the sudden muscle stiffness, spasms and pain caused by frigid winter temperatures. You know to stay in air-conditioning during the summer. You know all about wearing cooling vests, hats and neck wraps if you want to venture out into an August inferno. You’ve read about Uhthoff’s Phenomenon so many times that you can correctly spell it without looking it up in the dictionary.

Temperature changes and MS symptoms – not a new subject

You know everything I do about sweating and freezing. Our relationship has evolved, that’s all. We’ve all become a little more informed, a little more aware about the disease and its treatments. Because of this, maybe our interest in these subjects is running hot and cold, too, just like my relationship with my own body is running hot and cold. It’s not that I don’t care about you anymore. I’ve never felt closer to you all. I feel you as close as if you were my heart beating against my own chest. It’s just that I’m at the point of chronic head-shaking about my own body’s failure to act like a warm-blooded mammal. It’s winter, and my hands and feet are alternating between warm-and-red and cold-and-pale. On the next warm day I might have to sun myself on a rock just to get my circulation going. But there’s more to complicate the formula than that.

As time marches on, my aging body tends to change a bit each year in response to the biting-est cold and the blazing-est heat and humidity. Not to mention the sudden see-sawing of temps during transition months. If you live in a region that experiences all four seasons like I do, you’ve already discovered that the many unpredictable transition days between those seasons can affect your body worse than extreme temps.

Drastic changes in temperature can be worse than the extreme hot or extreme cold

People who live in the expansive land mass of the American Midwest have experienced this first-hand. It can happen in October, November, March, and April. And those who live somewhere within that long, narrow sliver of the Eastern Seaboard know all about chill dampness seasoned with salt air. You smile pityingly at those who suggest you layer your clothing, knowing how that helps regulate your comfort about as well as seeking shade relieves you from the light and heat of a nearby volcanic eruption, or that an extra pair of bearskin gloves will bring back the feeling in your fingers while you move fast afoot on the frozen tundra of Antarctica.

Yes, I too pity the poor fools. But I pity myself most of all, that split-second before I laugh to myself about what a waste of thermal energy it takes to feel, well, anything. I grumble because no matter what I do, I can’t change it. Oh, I can achieve temporary relief. In bed at night when I wake drenched in sweat, I can peel off the top cover and cool myself down enough to fall asleep again. But the routine will repeat itself tomorrow night and the night after that. You know the drill. You crawl into bed nicely chilled and draw up the comforter to chin level, nestling into your pillow and falling blissfully asleep.  What could possibly keep you from snoozing all the way to daybreak? The heat kicking on, for one.

Still in the problem-solving stage with that one? I can’t blame you. I have hot water heat, so dialing down the base temp at night didn’t do jack crap. It takes hours to adjust the base temp down and it didn’t keep me asleep amyway. I also take estradiol and progesterone for postmenopausal hot flashes. Though the medications control those symptoms, they don’t regulate my nighttime, presumably MS-related body temp fluctuations as much as I’d like. (And guys, a lot of you have similar problems if you take testosterone supplements or have adrenal conditions.) These things don’t save me from fitful nights because room temperature, air movement and hormones are only three factors that affect body temp and sleep problems.

Body temperature and sleep

Being more active helps us sleep better and sleep through the night—sometimes. Right now, I’m trying those little tricks I learned years ago in the event that they might get me a few more uninterrupted hours of shut-eye. I got one normal night out of a day of being more physically active. It meant a lot to me, honestly.

Backing off the caffeine earlier in the evening can help, too—sometimes. It’s worth a try.

I aim a pedestal fan at my face and put it on low-medium every night. It helps until I wake, damp and warm, then helps cool me down enough to fall back asleep again.

Taking melatonin several hours before bedtime can help me fall asleep earlier. But it has never helped me stay asleep.

So I’m still pretty much spinning my wheels. Are you? If you are sleeping through the night, night after night, please be generous and share your solution with us. You will have many of us feeling most beholden to you. Sleep is such a precious commodity.

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