Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition in which the immune systems perceives myelin membrane as an antigen and destroys it. The myelin is a membrane that covers both brain and spinal cord axons. Research on multiple sclerosis and sleep shows that MS patient suffer from severe sleep disorders that lower their quality of life. Myelin membrane has 2 functions in the body:
- To protect brain and spinal cord axon.
- Speed up conduction of electrical impulses in the nerves.
In MS, the myelin membrane is destroyed and thus the above two functions are severely affected.
Multiple Sclerosis and Sleep: Symptoms Affecting Sleep
Studies on multiple sclerosis and sleep have established fatigue as the commonest MS symptoms. In fact, it is thought that the level of fatigue is a good indictor of how far in the body the disease has progressed. Just like exercising too close to bedtime, fatigue cause insomnia.
In addition, fatigue causes the patient to spend too much time is the N-REM stage of sleep which shallow. Deep, more satisfying sleep is experienced in REM stage. Multiple sclerosis and sleep specialist have not been able to identify the cause of fatigue in MS.
Just like fatigue, multiple sclerosis and sleep experts have not yet identified the cause of depression in MS. Depression is thought to be caused by poor self-esteem especially in the late stage of MS when the patient can hardly be productive. In fact, some studies on multiple sclerosis and sleep suggest the level of depression is a better indicator of MS progression than fatigue. Even among healthy people, depression is a major cause of insomnia and sleep deprivation.
Multiple sclerosis and sleep disorders are related by the fact that MS causes incontinence. Bladder and bowel control are made possible by signal transmitted to the brain through nerves. In MS, the transmission of these signals is compromise due to destruction of myelin. Both bowel and bladder incontinence pollute the sleep environment leading to poor sleep.
The brain is the place where all memories are persevered. MS destroys the axons leading to poor memory. Since the sleep/wake clock is partly controlled by the memory, MS patient can forget when to sleep or not to do so.
Multiple Sclerosis and Sleep Studies
Multiple sclerosis and sleep studies have shown a strong connection between MS and the following sleep problems:
- Nocturnal Leg Spasms.
- REM sleep behavior disorder.
- Restless Leg Syndrome.
Multiple Sclerosis and Sleep: Treatment & Coping Tips
Since there is still no cure for MS at the moment, the aim of treatment is control symptoms. Most of the MS drugs are meant to reduce destruction of myelin by suppression the immune systems. The strong connection between multiple sclerosis and sleep disorders makes make quality sleep a major goal of MS treatment.
- Exercises help to control muscle spasms and improve sleep. Be sure to exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Counseling can helps the patient cope with depression.
- Control your body temperature by taking a cold bath in the evening.
- Establish bedtime routines that help you to relax before sleeping.
- Get exposed to sunlight during the day. However, your bedroom needs to be as dark as possible.
- Avoid drugs such as caffeine and nicotine that interfere with sleep.