Clean up your sleeping habits

Sleep - Who Needs It?

Remember when it was easy to get a good night’s sleep?  For some of us, that might take us back to our teenage years when we would spend countless hours in bed, much to the consternation of our mother.  These days, getting the recommended sleep each evening is getting harder. The headlines often tell us how little sleep we are getting- and that is talking about the general population.

For people living with MS, a good night’s sleep may be even rarer.  People with MS are 3 times more likely to have sleep problems than the general population and studies show that over 50% of us have significant sleep problems,1 and this was one of the topics of discussion at a special panel discussion hosted by The Ohio State MS Clinic. Lack of sleep quantity and quality can have an impact on our MS fatigue.2

My MS neurologist, Aaron Boster, was one of the presenters and he focused a lot on the need for sleep hygiene.  What’s that you might ask -  clean sleep?  Exactly. Our sleep habits have become so muddied with all of the other activities we do and our health needs, that many of us rarely get a good night’s sleep because of all the things that interrupt the process.

Dr. Boster emphasizes a key point that we have to train our brains to understand that our bedroom is meant for sleep and unequivocally says our beds should be for only two things – sleep or sex – and nothing else.  Their next panel discussion will focus on the latter so for now we can talk about using our beds for sleep.

His list of sleep hygiene tips include:

  • Set a regular time to go to bed and stick with it.  Try not to vary your bedtime by too much or it throws off our body clock.
  • Naps during the day are ok, but only one and keep it brief.  If we sleep during the day, we won’t sleep as well at night.
  • Don’t have a television in the bedroom – remember his two uses for the bed and don’t turn it into a lounge.
  • Also, none of the other activities that stimulate the brain and keep us awake should be done in bed. No reading the latest thriller, or looking at electronic devices such as iPads or our smart phones just before trying to go to sleep.
  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible – even the light on your alarm clock can be interfering with your sleep.
  • Eliminate any alcohol in those few hours before bedtime – it may put us to sleep faster but it also has a rebound effect and we wake much earlier, feeling not so great.
  • Speaking of fluids - nocturia (waking from sleep to use the restroom) is another common source of sleep interruption and can be slowed if we eliminate drinking any fluids a few hours before bedtime.
  • There are some things that interrupt our sleep cycle that are a bit harder to correct – such as medications, sleep apnea or sudden onsets of spasticity/restless legs and for those, he recommends talking to our medical providers because those solutions are more complex.

If we find we can’t sleep, Dr. Boster believes we can retrain our brain to understand when we are in bed, we should only be doing one of the two things he listed.  Their next program will talk about sexual functions,  so for now he focused on sleep.  He says that it is possible to retrain the MS brain to sleep better.

You know how you might lay in bed and stare at the ceiling and your mind is racing with all sorts of thoughts or your body is pinging with MS symptoms?  Limit yourself to 20 minute to fall asleep and if you can’t, get out of bed and go do something quiet, such as read a book or he suggests look through a magazine we have already read.  Whatever you do, don’t do anything that excites the brain, such as looking at your computer or watching television.  When your body feels ready to try sleep again, go back to bed and give it a try.   Dr. Boster says if you do this for several nights, eventually your body will reset its cues and know that if you are in bed, it is time to sleep.  Yes, you may be sleepy the next day, but resist that urge to take a lengthy nap and save that tiredness for bedtime.

If you search the web for MS and sleep, you will find a multitude of sites that recommend the very same ideas as this doctor, which tells me there is something to this sleep hygiene and resetting our body clocks. Strangely, I do not have a problem falling asleep – I am usually out within 3 minutes of putting my head on the pillow. My problem is on the other end – trying to stay asleep and make it past 5 am for my wakeup time.  Perhaps I can get him to talk about that problem at my next appointment.  In the meantime, if this is your problem, try some of these tips and let me know how they work for you.

Wishing you well,


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