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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,


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.

  1. Retrieved from the internet July 24, 2014.
  2. Veauthier C, Paul F. Sleep disorders in multiple sclerosis and their relationship to fatigue. Sleep Med. 2014 Jan;15(1):5-14. PubMed PMID: 24360534.


  • Laura
    4 years ago

    Well this was all written back in 2014. Anything more current? I have severe MS chronic fatigue that is enhanced by having Fibromyalgia which also carries fatigue. I cannot fall asleep in a completely quiet room and I also have fallen asleep with the TV on since I was young. I can’t stay asleep. I’m good for about 3 hours and then it’s wake up look at the time and toss and turn until I finally just get out of bed anywhere from 3 to 4:30 in the morning. I take a nap everyday because I can’t stay awake. I’m only good for a few hours at a time and by 5 in the evening it’s a battle to stay awake until 7 or 8 when I can’t take it anymore and go to bed. Part of my problem is the bed. I need an adjustable bed because my body get’s sore causing me to wake up to find a more comfortable position. Being on disability with a small income from that, I can’t afford to buy the bed. Are there any programs or funding for MS patients that need an adjustable bed?

  • lipasi
    6 years ago

    Your information is SO WRONG! Naps during the day are essential to combat fatigue. My husband who has primary progressive MS cannot sleep without the TV on, he has been this way even before the diagnosis. Don’t do anything that excites the brain? Hello I am not sure if you have MS but for my sweet husband how can he not be always mentally engaged in his illness. Everyone can benefit from not drinking to close to bedtime but excuse me fluids are so necessary to keep organs working properly. Sorry don’t mean to be harsh but generalized statements don’t work for everyone.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    There are always going to be exceptions to everything and it sounds as if your husband fits that role. Yes, I also have MS and my brain is engaged overtime during the day, but I try hard to slow it down before bedtime so I can get a better quality sleep. I was not completely clear about the idea of not being mentally stimulated and made the correction in my blog to include this applies in the time shortly before going to bed. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Sleep doesn’t come easily to most of us if we are laying in bed with our brains racing with thoughts or other stimulation. There is a good synopsis of the ways electronic devices and lights interfere with our sleep at

    When we don’t get a good night’s rest with sufficient hours of quality sleep, then our fatigue is worse during the day, often making more or longer naps necessary. The most recent research I cited for this entry comes from a research study titled Sleep disorders in multiple sclerosis and their relationship to fatigue, which finds “The treatment of underlying (sleep disorder) led to an improvement of MS-related fatigue.” It is all such a vicious cycle and trying to get better sleep at night is the first step for most of us in helping with the fatigue.
    Thanks for joining in the conversation. ~Laura

  • Dianna lyn
    6 years ago

    That’s easy to say don’t drink liquids before you go to bed?? Have you ever had that horrible, terrible, and crying headache that kept you awake?..or woke you up in the middle of the night? Holding your head cause it hurts sooo bad??…I had talked to a brain surgeon of 20 something years, just south of Atlanta, Georgia…He says, “Go get you the strongest cup of caffeine you can find, like a cup of coffee!”…well, it works, every time. Poor husband he makes for me as fast as he can…while, I sit there crying for relief!..thanks, hubby!! I do believe caffeine helps in a time of need, everything in moderation..

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    The headaches sound horrible and I’m fortunate I don’t get those to the extreme. I do know sometimes if I have a milder headache than you experience, a cup of java does the trick. That caffeine jolt can really help.~Laura

  • But You Look So Well
    6 years ago

    THis issue of the newsletter is hitting me on a number of symptoms I never realized were MS-related. I just posted a long comment on Myoclonus, which I’ve had for years and never realized was MS-related. I’ve also had horrible sleep problems and never realized they were MS-related. In fact, until I had a nurse tell me that ANEMIA is a prime source of sleep problems, I never could figure out why I couldn’t sleep. (And why iron-infusion therapy seemed to help the sleep issue so much). But I would easily take two or three hours to fall asleep and then constantly wake up and have to pee (thank you very much, Trospium) and then fall back to sleep. Left to myself, I’d sleep ten or twelve hours a night, with long awake periods interspersed with that time in bed. MY darling husband an I have decided to sleep in separate beds to help with my sleep trouble, since he snores and THRASHES around all night. He appears to lack the switch that turns off your body movements when you sleep. I think I’ll visit the symptoms list on this site and do some homework. I’ve had Ms for almost forty years, and there’s still new stuff to learn. Thanks, Laura.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    There are so many things we would like to blame our MS for but it can be something else. But then when problems like poor sleep it is easy to say that MS has nothing to do with it but that is far from the truth. It is known that most of us with MS experience sleep problems in one form or another. Like you, I continue to learn and recognize there is much I don’t know. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and I’m definitely going to look at the idea about iron deficiency. ~Laura

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