If someone asked me what is the #1 thing a person with MS should do, I would say make sure that you sleep. If you do nothing else for yourself every day, you should at least make sure you get seven to nine hours of good, sound sleep.
What is good sleep? Being able to fall asleep and stay asleep. Easier said than done for a person with MS, whose sleep becomes dysfunctional due to bladder problems, pain, spasticity, worries about life problems, and the actual effect on the brain by MS itself.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep affects EVERYTHING in the body-your heart, energy level, pain, weight, and even skin. Your brain cannot function well without it. It affects your mental state: judgment, reaction times, moods, memory, concentration and decision making. Sleep enables your brain to process information and store it in memory; it rejuvenates parts of your brain that was used during the day and even parts that are not normally used.
Sleeps keeps your immune system healthy and your resistance up to prevent colds, viruses and illnesses. Sleep problems can lead to accidents, as balance and coordination issues that many people with MS suffer with become worse. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to deal with stress, solve problems, or recover from sickness or injury.
Good sleep relaxes the body, helping to reduce pain from sore and tense muscles.
Poor sleep or lack of sleep can impact your life at home and at work, as well as your relationships. Energy levels-already plagued because of the fatigue factor-are exponentially reduced for a person living with MS.
It’s common sense. But what’s not apparent to many people is that sleep also gives your vision a rest. Vision is a cognitive activity! Poor sleep means your neurotransmitters, which normally suppress pain, don’t have time to refresh. Not getting enough sleep can impact the arteries, increasing the risk for heart disease/stroke and causing skin to become stretched and shallow.
Less sleep affects the appetite since it causes one to snack more, increasing the risk for weight gain. Becoming overweight makes physical activity more difficult and lessens endurance, which means fewer calories burned. In addition, inadequate sleep releases less serotonin in your brain that can cause the body to crave sugary foods.
There are several things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. (Note: This list was from an article in Make the Connection, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.)
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
- Make your bedroom a place just for sleeping and not a place for other activities like watching television, reading, working on the computer, or listening to the radio
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine
- Stick to a sleep schedule, making sure you wake up close to the same time every day
- Get outside and exercise daily (but not close to bedtime)
- Take medications that might delay or disrupt your sleep earlier in the day
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine
- Avoid alcohol before bed or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night
For MSers whose sleep is bothered by their symptoms, I offer these suggestions:
- Manage your symptoms that impact your sleep by minimizing them as much as possible. For example, I suffer from spasticity, and I make sure I stretch my muscles every day. This reduces the tightness, jerks, pain that spasticity causes. I refrain from liquids two hours before bedtime to get my bladder as empty as possible. Since a side effect of the antidepressant I take causes drowsiness, I take it at night. If I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something, I read a magazine article to get my mind on something else.
- Consider a prescription for sleeping pills. Personally, I have had a ‘script for them for thirty years. My personal rule of thumb is that if I have two nights of poor sleep in a row, I take a pill on the third night. I make myself sleep, because I believe that not getting good sleep is far more harmful for me than a sleeping pill.
So, bottom line, make sleep a priority. A requirement. You’ll feel better, think better and function better.