Multiple Sclerosis affects thousands of people and usually begins in early to middle adulthood, affecting more women than men. An autoimmunine disease, where the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues in the body, it affects the myelin which covers the nerves responsible for transmitting messages between the brain and other parts of the body
Scar tissue is built up as the myelin is destroyed causing disruption of messages throughout the central nervous system. The course of the disease and severity of the symptoms varies widely between sufferers partly due to the location of where the myelin is being attacked and the level of scar tissue.
The Symptoms of MS
There is no known cause of MS but factors believed to contribute to the disease include heredity predisposition, environmental factors such as viral infections and existing problems with the immune system. Progress and symptoms varies for each person so it is important to have the condition diagnosed to help predict how it may develop. Symptoms can occur anywhere in the body and many people are only affected by a few of the symptoms. MS can also cause extreme fatigue and this means that difficulty in sleeping caused by other symptoms and anxiety is often a great concern to sufferers and their families.
Other symptoms include problems with vision such as focusing, pain behind the eyes and disorientation. Muscle spasms can be painful and affect movement and pain in other areas of the body, coupled with problems with the bladder and bowel can mean that getting through the night is a real struggle. Although insomnia is not a symptom of MS, many of the symptoms do have a direct affect on sleep. Anxiety and anticipation of a restless painful night’s sleep can in itself be enough to make sufferers dread bedtime. Many people also develop depression that disrupts the sleep cycle.
It is important to discuss any difficulty sleeping with a GP who may be able to adjust or prescribe medication that will help. It may also be helpful to take into account previous sleep patterns to help understand whether the difficulty sleeping is related to MS or other factors.
Dealing with Sleep Problems
Following a bed time routine that will help encourage sleep – such as the guidance provided in other areas on this website – is important as it focuses the mind and takes into account the body’s needs for comfort and preparation. It may be necessary to adapt the bed and bedroom to provide extra support and a temperature that can be retained during the night. Many sufferers report waking during the night and needing to go to the bathroom so expecting this disruption may be better than trying to fight the inevitable…
Diet should also be considered and if night time or early morning waking can be expected a flask with a warm drink and perhaps a radio or reading for distraction may help those sleepless hours more relaxing. Although sleep may be evasive or disrupted, relaxation is a skill that many people find achievable and can alleviate the anxiety of not being able to sleep.
Napping is another option that can help anyone who feels that they are not getting enough sleep, or need extra sleep. Extreme fatigue does not always result in sleep so setting aside some time to allow the body to recharge itself can have advantages. Some people believe that napping or an afternoon ‘siesta’ will affect the ability to have good nights sleep. Research has shown that a nap of around 15 minutes can have great restorative benefits so it may be worth considering setting some time aside at other times of the day.
Gentle exercise that helps relieve tension without over-stimulation of the body may be beneficial. Yoga, tai chi and mat based exercises may be suitable and can be adapted to take into account other symptoms. If fatigue and muscular control is a problem, manipulative therapies and massage can be considered. These may also encourage the body to relax and have the added advantage of involving the mind and helping to alleviate anxiety.
Being diagnosed with MS can be life changing and affect many areas of life. Sleep problems are often neglected but by paying them attention and making an effort to incorporate naps and relaxation into your days (and nights) you may be able to improve the quality of your sleep and also help with some of the other symptoms.